During a recent amateur men’s league match where I was the referee, I called a foul against the defense and awarded a free kick about 25 yards from the goal line near the corner of the penalty area. The offense asked me to move the wall 10 yards and I informed the kicker to wait for my whistle. The kicker, a little over anxious, takes about 5 steps before kicking the ball. I blew the whistle to restart at about his 3rd step. The goalkeeper sprints out and punches the ball away which goes directly over the touch line on the opposite side of the field. At the time, I thought the kicker proceeding before the whistle and then my blowing the whistle may have been confusing to some players, so I ordered a retake. I took a little heat for it from the defense at the time.

In thinking about the decision, I though about Advice to Referees – 2007. In section 13.3, it states that the free kick must be retaken if the play is restarted prior to the signal. While the ball was not kicked yet, I had reasoned that play had begun because he had taken steps and was obviously going to kick it. Prior to the game, I had also looked at the 2009 Game Management model for MLS. In there it states that if the ball goes directly to the goalkeeper and he retains possession, let play continue. My scenario was slightly different. If I think about what was fair, I would have given a throw-in where the ball went out of touch after the keeper punched it. What advice can you give me? Thanks very much.

USSF answer (March 18, 2009):
The defending team has only one right at a free kick. That right has nothing to to with a wall, nor to loiter in front of the kicker; it is to be allowed to play without distraction by the referee. That has certainly not occurred here. On the other hand, as we have often stated here, the kicking team does have the right to attempt to deceive their opponents at a free kick. We hereby reinforce the statement that “must wait for referee signal to take free kick” means exactly and only that — the ball cannot be kicked until the whistle sounds. Award the throw-in.

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