On Nov. 18, a new soccer league, the Ohio Valley Premier League, was announced in the Tri-State as a regional competitive soccer circuit that will run a U23 adult amateur competition. The season will kick off May 15, and three teams have already been announced. Cincinnati Dutch Lions committed a team in addition to the squad they already run in USL League 2. Right after that announcement, the Indy Saints (whose men’s side last competed in 2017) announced they would restore a team to play in OVPL. A day later, a new club, the Lexington Landsharks, announced they would also play in OVPL. Since OVPL is sanctioned by U.S. Club Soccer, its clubs can compete in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup if they are able to secure a path through United States Soccer Federation’s early qualifying rounds. These are the first three teams announced with a rumored two on the way. OVPL is still recruiting to add more regional teams before the season starts.
With such a promising start, we sat down with OVPL organizer Brandon Ponchak to discuss the league and what the goals and aspirations are in adding more soccer to the midwest or specifically the Ohio Valley area.
Cincinnati Soccer Talk: What is the goal of OVPL and what needs does this league fill for soccer in the region?
Brandon Ponchak: The OVPL wants to create an outlet for 16-to-23-plus year-olds to play at a high level locally, in the Indiana-Ohio-Kentucky region. With declining youth soccer numbers, it is important to keep adults playing. This will give kids more options outside the traditional forms to play. Right now, if you’re missing that college scholarship or want to play outside that avenue, a league like OVPL fills that gap. Also, it allows for local players to play for their communities in a way that feels more authentic and professional than a normal rec league.
CST: So far we have one established club, one resurrected club, and one new club. That is quite the combo of announcements in OVPL’s first week of existence. Can you tell us what else is on the horizon?
Ponchak: We have had around 30 teams express interest. Right now we are in the vetting stage to figure out who could get launched in 2020. These are teams from a variety of areas in Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky and many in areas that have not seen a club in league play. Obviously, we don’t expect to see all these clubs launch right away, but it is very encouraging to see this much interest early. We will continue working with those that can’t make a 2020 launch and build toward adding them in the next year or two.
CST: We have seen an unprecedented surge of professional soccer success in the region. In the last five years, Cincinnati has landed an MLS club and is building a soccer-specific stadium. Columbus and Louisville are also growing and opening new stadiums. Is OVPL working to tap into the renewed excitement of this region on the amateur side?
Ponchak: We just want there to be more opportunities for people to play at a higher level or a higher level than what they may be restricted to at this time. Sixteen-year-olds need to be pushed against better competition, and 18-year-olds shouldn’t be forced to stop playing if they can’t get into the professional ranks right away. We also want to give those players out of college soccer another avenue to pursue.
CST: What is the barrier of entry when creating a team in this league? What would it take for CST to launch our own club and destroy all the other clubs in the region?
Ponchak: (laughs) Really the biggest barrier of entry is a place to play and getting a group of guys together than can commit to playing the matches. Travel will be restricted to four hours maximum with five home and five away matches guaranteed in year one. Currently, the furthest trip is two hours. We want this league to be as affordable as possible with a low burden on players to get to their matches.
CST: How hard would it be for a club to earn that spot in the U.S. Open Cup? Imagine there are some qualifying hoops to jump through?
Ponchak: The only requirements are playing 10 games in a sanctioned league to meet the first steps of qualification. Clubs would need to have a pitch that meets tournament minimum standards for local qualifying as well. It isn’t just that the winner of the league gets in, all clubs that meet the criteria will be able to participate in the qualifying rounds. This is the same avenue a club like Christos FC uses when they make their way into the tournament year after year. The clubs we have spoken with are very interested in participating.
CST: Do you feel this league will give younger players a platform to be seen? We have seen many Cincinnati Dutch Lions from the USL side move up over the years.
Ponchak: The main focus is on the development of players. Some of our clubs will just be focusing on young players. It is highly encouraged to push younger players into the league. That has been a focus of the Cincinnati Dutch Lions in the past and OVPL gives them another avenue to expand that.
OVPL will launch its 2020 inaugural season on May 15. If you are interested in finding out more about the league, their website can be found at ovplsoccer.com, and you can follow them on twitter at @ovplsoccer. Ponchak is a part of the team launching OVPL. The league is structured so that every club is a voting and equal part member.
The first OVPL event is this weekend as Lexington and Cincinnati play a friendly Futsal exhibition.
— OVPL Soccer (@ovplsoccer) December 2, 2019
Cincinnati Soccer Talk will continue to cover this new league and will keep our readers updated on its growth.