League Feature: Northern Ohio Soccer League

by Joe Meyer

With the eyes of the lower league soccer world on professional and “pre-professional” leagues, it’s easy to forget the role that local & state amateur leagues play in the development of amateur soccer in the U.S.

Amateur leagues such as the Northern Ohio Soccer League (NOSL), represented by Delaware Rising FC and the City of Ohio Sport Club in this year’s eCup, play a critical role in keeping amateur soccer alive in communities across the country, and provide a platform for players to both develop and continue their playing careers.

We recently sat down with Braden Mast, Director of Operations at the NOSL, for a Q&A on the league’s vision and role in the Ohio soccer community ahead of its fourth season in 2023.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your soccer background?

“I’m 24 years-old, from Millersburg, Ohio, and I’m currently a graduate assistant with the Sports Information Department at Mount Vernon Nazarene University as I work toward finishing my MBA. I have played soccer my whole life, from parks and rec to high school, to the college level.” 

What inspired you to launch this league? What’s the league’s overall mission?

“My friends and I started an indoor soccer team called Amish Country United when we were in high school and we thought it would be cool to play in a competitive outdoor league. After searching for local leagues, we did not find any that really fit our criteria so I decided to start a men’s, amateur league in Northern Ohio. This was a challenging process and I initially formed the league just for ACU to have a place to play, but as the NOSL grew, we realized there was a need for it in the area and it has turned into an awesome project to be a part of.  The NOSL’s mission is to provide players and teams a competitive place to play amateur soccer in a professional environment. Despite the soccer being amateur, we strive to provide a professional experience for our members.”

Tell us a little more about the soccer scene in Northern Ohio and the role you believe that the league can play in growing the game in the state?

“As I mentioned, there weren’t a ton of quality soccer leagues for men in our area back when we started the NOSL in 2017. Despite Northern Ohio being a hotbed for baseball, basketball, and football, soccer has slowly been gaining a lot of momentum and has grown in popularity. There are a lot of storied high school and college programs in the area and amateur and semi-professional teams are popping up all over the place. I believe the NOSL has helped grow soccer in Ohio and we have been able to help several teams start from nothing and grow into something they and their communities can really be proud of.”

Last week, the league announced the formation of the WNOSL, a women’s division set to debut in 2023. Why is now the time to invest in the women’s game?

“We started the NOSL to meet a need in our area as men’s adult soccer needed an organized league to cater to the needs of players and teams and now that we have established the men’s division, we decided the women’s side could use the same. Soccer is for everyone and there are not enough opportunities for women to continue their playing careers after high school and college. We are very excited for the inaugural season to begin in May.”

How is the NOSL’s front office structured? How do you make sure that the clubs and club members are “heard” and play an important role in the league’s decision-making processes?

“The NOSL has five board members that help plan, make decisions, and oversee the league. All five of us are volunteers who love the game and dedicate our time and energy to helping the league grow. In addition to the NOSL League Board, each club has a representative that has a vote on league decisions. We believe it is very important for our members to have a say in how things are run and we deeply care about the input and ideas our members bring to us.”

Do you have plans to work with any other local or regional leagues to build out opportunities for your member clubs to grow into a “higher-level” league on the pyramid?

“As of now, we are not affiliated with any other leagues but we are always willing to have conversations with leagues to ensure soccer is continuing to grow and the needs of our members are met. It would be interesting to see what a true pyramid would look like for lower league soccer in America. At least for now, we are focused on providing a fun, competitive, and organized league for the teams and players in Northern Ohio.”

Promotion & relegation. It wouldn’t be an interview with a league exec if we didn’t ask about it. Is this something you could see the NOSL implementing in the near future?

“Promotion and relegation really captures the essence of sports and competition. I love the idea that teams can move across divisions based on sporting merit and not any other factor like financial strength or connections. Promotion and relegation is something we have discussed as a league and many of our members seem very enthusiastic about the possibility of implementing some kind of pro/rel model to the NOSL. I don’t know about the near future but it is something that we will be monitoring as we continue to grow as a league.”

Where do you envision the league in five years?

“In five years’ time, I would love to see all the current NOSL members still around and I hope that includes playing in the NOSL. My dream is that clubs will continue to grow and offer opportunities for men’s, women’s, and youth soccer and that communities will latch onto and support their local teams. It would be incredible to see hundreds of fans attending league games and for local boys and girls to dream about one day playing for their local team.”

The NOSL's fourth season begins in May. You can follow the league at @NOSLsoccer on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, or visit the league’s website.