This fun learning activity combines two of my favorite things: soccer and geography. By plotting Major League Soccer teams on a map and answering a few questions about distance and travel, your kids will discover how just big, and how relatively small, North America is and maybe, just maybe, they’ll adopt a new favorite sport and sports team(s) to cheer on in the process!
My two daughters have (finally!) joined me in my fanatical soccer fandom and have picked the Timbers as their favorite club after watching them defeat the Colorado Rapids in Portland this summer. I don’t blame them one bit for hopping on that bandwagon as the boisterous atmosphere inside the Timbers home stadium is infectious. The girls also share my longtime love of thinking about geography and the distance between here, there, and where we want to be as we crisscross the country on family vacations. And who doesn’t enjoy looking for state license plates and analyzing maps while on road trips? Geography is fun! Soccer is fun! So let’s put them together!
What You’ll Need
- The logos of the current and future MLS teams
- A map of North America with major cities
- Cork board / Cardboard
How To Play
Print off the map and pin it to cork board or thick cardboard. Print off the list of MLS teams and cut out their logos. Note that the three new teams will be located in Orlando, Atlanta and New York City (who will join the Red Bulls to give NYC two MLS franchises). Now locate the 19 current MLS cities on the map and pin each logo to the correct city.
*Note: things will get tight on the east coast, so consider pinning the logos off to the side in the Atlantic Ocean. You may also need to shrink the logos to fit them all (or work in batches as I show in the photos here)
Now, ask your kids these questions while talking to them about ‘estimates’ and ‘eyeballing’ distances on a map:
- A game between which two teams would involve the longest travel? Tie a string around those two city’s pushpins. If two matchups look similar, tie string to each and then measure the length of the strings to determine which two teams are the farthest apart.
- How about the game that would produce the shortest travel time (not including teams in the same city, like the L.A. Galaxy and Chivas USA, both of which play in Los Angeles, CA)?
- Which MLS teams are near a major body of water — an ocean or a big lake?
- Which teams are furthest away from an ocean?
- Which teams should be natural rivals based on their proximity to each other?
- Which MLS team is closest to Mexico? How about to Cananda?
- How many teams are based in Canada?
- How many MLS teams play in a state, province or country’s capital city?
- When the MLS season winds down each fall, which teams are playing their home games in the coldest temperatures?
At the end of this Geography of Soccer activity, your child will have learned a few more state and provincial capitals, be curious about cities all over North America, and maybe, just maybe, they’ll want to head out to the park with you to kick around soccer ball like Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey!
Replicate this Adventures in Learning Geography of Soccer activity with the NWSL and the first division clubs in England (Premiere League,) Spain (La Liga,) France (Ligue 1,) Italy (Serie A,) and/or Germany (Bundesliga) — whichever countries might be of interest to you and your kids. Simply Google image search country maps with cities and lists of the 20 teams in each league.