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NWSL VAR: Everything you need to know about new technology

A FIFA official checks the VAR monitor during a U-17 Women’s World Cup game in October. (Stephen Pond – FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

This weekend, the NWSL begins the very first season of its VAR era. The league made one of the biggest investments in its 11-year history to bring the quality of officiating up to speed with the action on the pitch.

VAR has not come without its controversies in the world of global football, but when used with a light touch, it can greatly reduce the debates around missed calls and focus attention back on the pitch in a positive way.

What is VAR?

VAR stands for Video Assistant Referee, technology that assists the center official by using video replay. VAR has been used in a limited capacity in the men’s game since 2016, with MLS becoming the first domestic league to use it for a full season in 2017. Since then, it’s become a tool worldwide, with its most high-profile usage in the women’s game prior to 2023 coming at the 2019 World Cup.

With season kickoff this weekend, the NWSL becomes the first women’s domestic league to implement the technology, in an attempt to reduce clear and obvious errors in the course of a match. VAR requires training additional staff, which the league began in September, to observe monitors throughout the game. The VAR official communicates with the center official through a headset, allowing procedures like goal and foul checks to happen in real time. There is also a VAR monitor at midfield that the center official can access themselves upon consulting with the VAR crew.

VAR reviews will be shown both in NWSL stadiums in real time and on the broadcast.

What will VAR review in the NWSL?

The short answer is: not everything. The goal of VAR is to make sure the officials get the big moments of the game right, not to re-litigate every foul or out-of-bounds play. The incidents VAR will review in the NWSL are goals/no goals, penalties/non-penalties, direct red card given/missed and mistaken identity.

Under the umbrella of goals/no goals lies offside calls, which will be made based on what the VAR crew sees through at least five different camera angles, as NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman explained. VAR sometimes means that assistant referees will delay raising the offside flag if a goal-scoring opportunity is imminent and the call is close. Officials operate with the understanding that calling a play dead could have more detrimental effects on a match than letting the play finish before allowing VAR to determine if a goal was in fact offside. Other actions that could disallow a goal are a foul or handball in the build-up to the scoring opportunity.

Determining penalties/non-penalties will include handballs in the box and fouls. VAR can be used to determine whether the severity of contact inside the penalty area is worthy of a blown whistle, as well as where exactly those infractions occurred. In order to overturn a call on the field, what is seen on the VAR monitor has to clearly and obviously run counter to what the center official saw in real time; angles too close to call defer to the original call.

VAR only gets involved in player cards when a direct red card might be warranted due to dangerous play. Yellow cards are not reviewable, which means that a second yellow card leading to an accumulated red card is also not reviewable — only if the infraction itself is worthy of a straight red. VAR can, however, determine that an action originally given a yellow card is worthy of a direct red card.

In the case of mistaken identity, VAR can be used to make sure discipline like a yellow card was issued to the correct player, but not whether the offense was worthy of a yellow card.

The gray area

VAR implementations in other leagues and tournaments have gotten very literal, and in 2019 the women’s game saw how matches can get out of hand when center officials are pushed out of their element by backseat-driving from the replay monitor. For NWSL, successful VAR hinges on “clear and obvious error.” If, for whatever reason, the video quality or angle is inconclusive, the center official will not be overruled, and in some cases a VAR review will not even be recommended. In many ways, that allows the game to play out in the way it was intended, with limited breaks.

This does mean that NWSL will not have the benefit of goal-line technology, something MLS does not use either, and will have to rely on cameras for close calls on the goal line.

Ultimately, the platonic ideal of VAR is a tool that makes sure the big decisions are correct, while still empowering live officials to make the calls they need and let the game of soccer flow the way it’s intended. There will still be close calls and differing interpretations of the rules, but a less intrusive VAR approach has been well-received in MLS, and the NWSL hopes its usage follows suit.

Claire Watkins is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @ScoutRipley.

Barcelona to Face Lyon in Champions League Rematch This Weekend

UEFA Women's Champions League Final"Barcelona FC - Olympique Lyonnais"
Saturday's game will be the third UWCL final meeting for Barcelona and Lyon, having previously gone up against each other in 2019 and 2022. (ANP via Getty Images)

The UEFA Women's Champions League final kicks off in Bilbao on Saturday, with a couple of familiar foes set to face off for the trophy.

Olympique Lyonnais Féminin, making its 11th final appearance since 2010, will go head to head with a Barcelona side making its fourth final appearance in a row.

This will be the third time these two teams meet in the UWCL title game, having previously appeared in the 2019 and 2022 finals. Lyon won both of those prior games against Barcelona, alongside a total of eight Champions League trophies. That’s double that of any other club, with Eintracht Frankfurt coming in a distant second with four. 

Should Barcelona win, this would be the team's third title — breaking a tie for the third in the UWCL total titles race. 

But as these teams return to the UWCL final, it also marks the end of an era for both clubs. The game will be the last for both club managers, as Barcelona’s Jonatan Giráldez and Lyon’s Sonia Bompastor depart for new jobs after the season's end.

Giráldez is set to leave for the NWSL's Washington Spirit, while Bompastor will take over for incoming USWNT coach Emma Hayes at Chelsea. Both coaches have earned one UWCL trophy during their tenures, while Bompastor also brought two Champions League trophies to Lyon as a player. She was the first coach to win a UWCL trophy as both a coach and player.

This season, Barcelona is looking for its first quadruple, having won a fifth Liga F title alongside the Copa de La Reina, and the Spanish Supercopa. 

"We hope he can go out with the four trophies because we know how competitive and ambitious he is," Barcelona midfielder Patri Guijarro told ESPN. "It has been a winning era with him in charge and for him to go out with all four trophies would be historic and incredible."

But Lyon's Damaris Egurrola is excited about her team's chances of overcoming Barcelona once again — and to do it in front of family and friends.

"Lyon have something special," she told Forbes ahead of the weekend's final. "We have a great team and we have the players with enough talent to win any match."

The game will be a homecoming for Egurrola, who began her professional career with Athletic Bilbao.

"I’ve been thinking of this day and night," she said. "I’ve been dreaming of playing this match. Having the opportunity to play in San Mames is amazing. This is where it all started for me."

The UEFA Women's Champions League final kicks off Saturday, May 25th at 12 PM ET and is free to stream on DAZN.

World No. 1 Iga Swiatek Headlines a Stacked 2024 French Open

Iga Swiatek serves against Coco Gauff during the group stage of the 2023 WTA Finals in Cancun, Mexico
Iga Swiatek serves against Coco Gauff during the group stage of the 2023 WTA Finals in Cancun, Mexico. (Robert Prange/Getty Images)

The 2024 French Open starts on Sunday, with a match schedule that promises to wrap the short clay court season up in style.

Looking for her fourth title at the major is three-time Roland Garros champion and World No. 1 Iga Swiatek, considered the favorite to win the whole Slam. Three of her four major titles have come at the French tournament. 

Swiatek's career record at the French Open is a dominating 28-2, and she's currently on a 16-game winning streak fueled by victories at tune-up tournaments in Madrid and Rome.

But that doesn't mean she won't face some serious challengers along the way. Get to know some of the Polish tennis champ's strongest competitors.

Aryna Sabalenka

Sabalenka is ranked No. 2 in the world and faced Swiatek in the finals at both Madrid and Rome. She lost in three sets in Madrid, which included a close third-set tiebreak, before losing in straight sets at the Italian Open. 

She enters the French Open having won the Australian Open in January, successfully defending her title in the first Slam of the season. At last year’s French Open, Sabalenka reached the semifinals — a career best — before being ousted by Karolina Muchová in three sets.

Season record: 25-7

Coco Gauff

Currently sitting at No. 3 in the world, the highest-ranked American on the schedule is none other than Coco Gauff. Gauff won her first major at the US Open last year, and reached the semifinals of this year’s Australian Open. She faced Swiatek in the semifinals of the Italian Open last week, losing in straight sets. 

But her first major final came at the French Open in 2022, before being ousted by Swiatek in the quarterfinals at last year’s French Open. The two are on a crash course for a meeting before the finals, as Gauff anchors the other quadrant on Swiatek’s side of the draw, should they both advance deep into the competition.

Season record: 25-8

Chicago Sky Upset New York to End Liberty’s Unbeaten Streak

chicago sky's angel reese on the court against new york liberty
Angel Reese registered a near double-double against a strong Liberty side. (Evan Yu/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Liberty’s unbeaten streak came to an end on Thursday as Angel Reese and the Chicago Sky got the upset win over New York with a final score of 90-81. 

Angel Reese stood out with a near double-double, registering 13 points and nine rebounds. She’s currently the only rookie this season to exceed 10 points in her first three games, and the first player in Sky history to begin their career with three consecutive double-digit scoring games, per ESPN Stats & Info.

The outcome may not have come as a surprise to Liberty stars Breanna Stewart and Jonquel Jones, who sung Reese’s praises ahead of the game.

"She’s a workhorse," Stewart told The Post. "She doesn’t stop. She’s tough, she’s strong, she’s tough to box out and good at cleaning up for her team offensively and defensively."

"I feel like she’s an energizer bunny," Jones added. "She doesn’t stop moving, she doesn’t stop crashing the boards. Just someone that is gonna be relentless in her approach to getting to the glass and playing tough."

It was the first time Chicago has met New York this season. The game was especially meaningful for new Chicago head coach Teresa Weatherspoon, who led the Liberty for seven years as a player and joined the team's Ring of Honor in 2011.

"This place means a lot to me... I played in that jersey, I adored that jersey, I adored every player that I had an opportunity to play with. The love that I received even today was overwhelming," Weatherspoon reflected after the game.

Following the win, Sky guard Dana Evans had some kind words for her coach.

"I mean, it's just special. She's special," Evans said. "She just breeds confidence in each and every one of us. We love her. We just wanted to go so hard and play hard for her, and I feel like this one was really for her. We really wanted this for her more than anything."

Thursday's victory brings Chicago's record to 2-1, a somewhat unlikely feat given that their offseason featured starter Kahleah Copper getting traded to Phoenix. The Connecticut Sun are now the only undefeated team left in the league this season, and will formidable foes for the Sky as they take their winning streak on the road to Chicago this weekend.

New USWNT Coach Emma Hayes Embracing the Challenge

United States Women's Head Coach Emma Hayes
The ex-Chelsea skipper has officially arrived in the US — now it's time to get down to business. (USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

Emma Hayes has officially begun her tenure as USWNT manager ahead of the team’s June friendlies.

Hayes made the rounds on Thursday, appearing on the Today Show and speaking with select media about her goals and underlying principles with the team. It’s a quick turnaround for the decorated coach, who just won the WSL with Chelsea last weekend.

One thing that she won’t do, however, is shy away from the high expectations that come with managing the US. The squad is looking to reinstate its winning reputation at the Paris Olympics this summer following a disappointing World Cup in 2023. 

"I know the challenge ahead of me. There is no denying there is a gap between the US and the rest of the world," she told ESPN. "We have to acknowledge that winning at the highest level isn't what it was 10 years ago. It's a completely different landscape. And my focus is going to be on getting the performances required to play at a high level against the very best nations in the world."

While Hayes was formally hired six months ago to lead the USWNT, her deal stipulated that she remain with Chelsea through the conclusion of their season. In her stead, Twila Kilgore has led the team, with the coach "drip feeding subliminal messages" to the roster on Hayes’s behalf.

"It's a bit ass-upwards," Hayes joked to reporters. "I know about the staff, and the team, and the structure behind it. We got all of that. Now it's time, I need to be with the team."

With Olympics now just two months away, Hayes dropped hints this week regarding her thought process behind building the roster, saying there’s still time for players to make their case.

"You can't go to an Olympics with a completely inexperienced squad. We need our experienced players, but getting that composition right, that's my job between now and June 16th," she said on the Today Show.

"What I can say from my time [in the US] is, I've always loved the attitude towards performance and the expectation to give everything you've got," she later affirmed to reporters.

And as for winning gold?

"I'm never gonna tell anyone to not dream about winning," she added. "But… we have to go step by step, and focus on all the little processes that need to happen so we can perform at our best level.

"I will give it absolutely everything I've got to make sure I uphold the traditions of this team."

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