Never afraid to try out new innovations, MLS is hoping to gain worldwide attention by becoming one of the first adopters of goal-line technologyAs soon as play was waived on after Frank Lampard's chip clearly crossed the goal-line against Germany, the “if” officially became the “when.”
Before that World Cup 2010 round of 16 match, many saw goal-line technology an idealistic, but superfluous notion. After the game, that line of thinking was dead. No matter the cost or how long it took, the injustice that took place that evening in Bloemfontein could never happen again.
On July 2, nearly two years to the day after that game, the International Football Association Board (the body that determines the laws of the game) will meet to determine whether to allow the use of one or both goal-line technology finalists: Hawk-Eye, a camera-based ball-tracking system used in tennis and cricket, and GoalRef, which utilizes a magnetic field with a special ball.
Among the many interested parties awaiting IFAB's verdict is Major League Soccer.
“This is perhaps the most critical call that an officiating crew can make,” MLS executive vice president Nelson Rodriguez told Goal.com. “If there's a way to improve certainty towards the accuracy of that call, our general feeling is we should pursue it.”
That MLS is interested in implementing goal-line technology should come as no surprise to anybody who has followed the league in recent years – or since its inception. From the now-defunct shootout to settle tie games to the current retroactive suspension initiative, new innovations have always been a part of the league's M.O.
“We believe if we need to be a little more bold than others in an effort to progress the game forward, that we should,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez mentioned that incorporating technology into the flow of gameplay is a concept that should be more palatable to the North American sports fan, as all four of the traditional “major” sports leagues on the continent – MLB, NBA, NFL and NHL – currently utilize some form of video replay.
Ideologically, Major League Soccer is clearly in favor of implementing goal-line technology, but ideology sometimes contends with reality. As of now, there are still many logistical issues to be ironed out.
“While philosophically the decision to adopt it could be quick, I think the actual implementation may not be as fast or would be predicated to some degree on factors outside of our control,” Rodriguez said.
First, one or both of the goal-line technologies must be approved on July 2. Depending on whether one or both is accepted, MLS could face a decision on which fits the league best.
After IFAB approval, MLS would require its own seal of approval from its board of governors. The measure would only require a majority vote, which Rodriguez believes won't be a hurdle.
“Our ownership has in most decisions been very close to unanimous and I would expect nothing different here,” he said.
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League approval wouldn't be the end of the process though, but rather the beginning.
Rodriguez brought up several questions that would need to be answered before borderline goal calls in MLS could be resolved by inanimate objects.
“Are they (Hawk-Eye or GoalRef) in a position to roll out their technology on a mass scale? When would they be in that position? How much would it cost? Is there a training program that needs to take place? How are the referees trained in using the technology and responding to it? Will there be off-field personnel that need to be trained in the technology?”
For example, if Hawk-Eye is selected, it would likely require camera installations in all 18 MLS venues, which could be pricey. However, Rodriguez sounded optimistic about fitting goal-line technology within the league's budget constraints, saying: “Like any other form of technology, future iterations generally get better and cheaper.”
Though some have speculated that goal-line technology could be in place early as this season, Rodriguez pointed to 2013 as the likely earliest adoption date.
“Going beyond cost and going beyond the availability of the technology for 18 markets, training all relevant people in the technology takes time and also introducing something in the middle of the season is always a bit more difficult. I think that realistically the earliest time frame for a league-wide application would be 2013,” he said.
We won't see goal-line technology in MLS until next year at the earliest, but the events have already been set in motion, with the end result inevitable. The only question now is whether MLS will be the guinea pig.
Whichever major professional league is the first to take the goal-line technology plunge will receive a healthy amount of attention from the global soccer community. Surely MLS wouldn't be averse to becoming the recipient of that sort of interest.
“I don't think we're daunted by that [being the first league to implement goal-line technology] if we were selected by FIFA or approved by FIFA to serve even as a test case,” Rodriguez said.
As early as the 2013 season, the eyes of the soccer community could be squarely on Major League Soccer, and its latest bold attempt to progress the game.