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Sacramento Republic’s Briggs on VAR: Would be nice, but unlikely now in USL

Head coach talks after team crashes out of playoffs on handball goal.

Chile v Colombia - South American Qualifiers for Qatar 2022 Photo by Claudio Reyes - Pool/Getty Images

Sacramento Republic FC crashed out of the 2020 USL Championship playoffs last weekend in excruciating circumstances.

Several minutes before the end of 30 minutes of extra time against Phoenix Rising FC in Arizona, Sacramento conceded a go-ahead goal by Phoenix’s Solomon Asante that the player punched in. That goal stood, and Phoenix advanced, on a USL version of a “Hand of God” goal.

The initial response in watching the goal and the aftermath was the call for VAR again in the USL Championship, at least in the playoffs.

The league was one of the first pioneers to use VAR in the world, giving it a trial in some games in 2016, before the system was widely adopted in many prominent top flight leagues around the world, including MLS.

But when asked if he would like to see VAR implemented again and on a wider scale in the USL Championship, Sacramento Republic head coach Mark Briggs somewhat surprisingly said it’s not a realistic option at present.

“I think as the game evolves, obviously it’s been used in MLS, it’s being used in other leagues around the world, I think VAR is something that may come into play, but there’s a number of things that have to happen for that to become viable for a league like USL,” Briggs told reporters during end-of-season availability with reporters Friday. “I think the reality right now is we’re not there, we’re not in a position where VAR is viable to USL clubs. I think that’s the reality of it.”

Whether Briggs is just more empathetic than most head coaches or he’s had time to reflect on how the season ended, he was understanding of the handball being missed, something many watching claimed to notice live, but I personally couldn’t tell it was a handball for certain until I saw a replay in slow-motion.

“For me, what happened in Phoenix happened, and being a referee is a really difficult job, it’s a really difficult position. And for me, I can speak for our perspective as a club, I felt we should have won the game before that. The referee’s decision is the referee’s decision, right or wrong, everyone can have an opinion on that. That is what it is. I’ve made mistakes, players make mistakes, referees make mistakes.”

And ultimately, Briggs said Sac Republic ought to have won the game before the fateful non-call.

“For me, I felt we were the better team and we could have handled the game so that decision wouldn’t have mattered as much as it did,” he said.

Even with a realistic outlook, Briggs admitted he would support the implementation of VAR, but he just doesn’t think it will happen.

“To answer the question, it’d be nice to see it but I don’t think it’s quite a reality right now,” he said.

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