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2021 Soccer Outlook: Ohio Soccer Association Part 1

In December of 2020 we brought you a summary of the merger of Ohio North and Ohio South USYSA State associations. We reached out to the newly formed Ohio Soccer Association for our 2021 Soccer Outlook Series and earlier this week we sat down with Joe Gould (OSA Digital Media and Marketing) and Gordon Henderson (OSA CEO) to discuss the merger, their plans for 2021 and beyond and Ohio Soccer in general.

The merger of Ohio North and Ohio South brought together just under 90,000 players, about 340 clubs and 60 leagues making the new Ohio Soccer Association one of the largest USYS State Organizations in the country. Placed at the head of this newly formed state association is a familiar face, Gordon Henderson. Henderson has been a leader in US soccer for decades. A footballer from Scotland, Henderson first arrived in US Soccer in 1991 while still in university. Within a few years he found himself married with children and served as a head coach at multiple universities before switching gears and moving to Ohio. Starting at Ohio South as the Director of Coaching and eventually becoming the Executive Director, Henderson was recently named the CEO of the new Ohio Soccer Association.

Our 2021 Soccer Outlook series all start with the same question “What are you most excited about in 2021 for OSA?” Henderson’s answer was mysterious and set the stage for a lot of good conversation to come when he replied that he was most excited for “the potential of what we could and should and will be.” Henderson and Gould shared with us that this merger is historic; never in the history of USYSA have two state organizations merged in such a way. He continued by saying, “Part of our goal is to create this big tent concept in the State of Ohio.”

Our takeaway for the conversation was that there are two parts to this “Big Tent Concept”, first as Henderson put it “uniting a fractured soccer landscape” and “to be a central resource”. Second there is a focus on growth. With the 2026 World Cup on the horizon and the anticipation of the possibility that Cincinnati is in contention to become a Host City, OSA has ambitious goals for growth of the sport in Ohio. They shared with us that they would like to grow player participation within OSA to more than 100,000 by fall of 2022, more

than 125,000 by fall of 2024 and more than 150,000 by the fall of 2026. That’s a growth of more than 40% in just 5 years’ time and coming off of a global pandemic where some players have been sidelined for the better part of a year they will have to get creative. In recent years it has been reported that US Soccer participation had been on the decline, but just as recently as this past summer studies began to show an increase in interest among youth and growing participation; making this a great time to plan for significant growth.

“One of the reasons why we merged, (is because) we are able to do more with a bigger group. So, the resources that we have as a staff, the resources we have as an entity. The coaching education side of things, being able to talk to parents...that can only benefit people” We tried to press for more specific information but with the merger being so fresh we were told there are a number of exciting things coming that they aren’t ready to share just yet. Henderson did tell us that “there are some great things coming and you will have a true sense of who we are by mid March.”

Our conversation naturally moved beyond the typical 2021 Soccer Outlook questions and we touched on everything from ODP to grassroots and recreational soccer. We talked about the different needs of urban and rural soccer communities and the cultural differences between demographics. We also talked about the role of ESports as a conduit to grow the game. We will share all of this information and more from OSA as they navigate Ohio soccer in a second year of covid and beyond.

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