MLS CONFIDENTIAL: Ref watch

By Ridge Mahoney

Some minor incidents and some significant ones highlighted the first legs of the conference semifinals last weekend.

D.C. keeper Nick Rimando held the ball for at least 10 seconds twice against the MetroStars. Referee Kevin Stott showed restraint in handing out four yellow cards in a match that sometimes got chippy, yet a keeper holding the ball for more than six seconds -- while not a major transgression -- necessitates the calling of an indirect free kick.

A fierce collision between Brian Mullan and Jose Burciaga in the Quakes-Wizards game left Burciaga in a heap and needing some medical attention, but no cards were handed out by referee Kevin Terry.

This impact was not only unusual for its intensity, it was also rare in that neither player threw up his elbows for protection. Thus, they hit each other solidly shoulder-to-shoulder and were in relatively little danger of a broken jaw or smashed cheekbone or fractured eye socket.

ESPN2 announcer Eric Wynalda correctly labeled it a ''good hit.'' A player can be whistled for excessive force, but in this case both players slammed into each other full-bore while going for the ball.

Terry later cautioned Mullan for a clattering into Diego Gutierrez for a late, waist-high tackle. Compared to the previous incident, the contact was minimal, but a referee can caution a player for dangerous play and in a match already roiling with hard tackles and hot tempers, Terry took out the card.

No replay caught the Ryan Nelsen long ball that sprung Earnie Stewart, whom the MetroStars considered far offside, for the first goal in United's victory over the MetroStars.

Stewart would have been very close to the midfield line as the ball was played, but the cameras stationed at midfield did not provide a shot wide enough to capture Nelson's pass and Stewart's position. MSG, which provided the feed of this game, also had cameras aimed along the penalty-area line but no replay had the proper angle cover the incident.

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