Q&A: Jeff Berman, president of the Columbus Premier Soccer League

From the April 24, 2014 edition

As a FIFA-sanctioned league, Columbus Premier Soccer plays host to some of the city’s top players outside of Major League Soccer. Former Columbus Crew, New England Revolution and D.C. United players can be seen dominating The Soccer Fields at Easton this Sunday when the league’s 19 teams return to action. At the helm, coordinating all 400 players, referees and team managers, is league president Jeff Berman. After more than 20 years running the league, he has it down to a science. The league might run without him, but it’s unlikely it would run as well.

We aren’t just another beer league. We have some serious soccer talent on the field. It isn’t something our players participate in just for fun — they want to compete. We have 400 players, and about 80 percent of the guys have competed at the collegiate level, or higher, including a handful of former professional players. We have players from D.C. United, the New England Revolution and the Columbus Crew. These guys play to win, so be prepared to see some aggressive competition at our matches.

You don’t realize how much organization it takes to produce one soccer game, until you have to do it. When I was playing in college, I would just show up and the game would be ready to go. I didn’t realize somebody had to book the field, schedule the referees and organize the matchups until I became a team manager in the premier league years ago. Now my primary function is to make sure everything runs smoothly, which means I have a lot of hats to wear.

Soccer players are bigger, faster and stronger than ever before. When I was growing up, soccer wasn’t nearly as popular as it is now. I started playing when I was 12, which is late by today’s standards. I am a pretty basic player, and I am constantly blown away by the talent of some of the younger guys. The current generation of players has grown up with the Crew in their backyard and have been playing since they were five. Soccer has actually surpassed baseball as far as youth participation. The competition is stronger, so more people are becoming interested, which in turns builds more competition.

I still participate on a team, but I keep myself benched most of the time. I was decent at soccer growing up and got to play in college. But we have such incredibly talented players, my level of experience doesn’t really compare. I don’t embarrass myself or anything, and I can hold my own for a short period of time, but typically if I have to play, it’s not good news. I guess I could put myself as a starter, but I know better.

When I started, I never thought I’d be running the league this long. When you start something like this, you don’t think “I am going to be doing this 20 years from now,” but I’m glad I did. It’s been a great experience, and despite all the work, it’s really rewarding. When players come up to me and thank me for running a league with a high level of competition, it means a lot. After all, this isn’t my league; it’s the players’ league.

Photo by Meghan Ralston