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As Major League Soccer's playoffs kick off, the talk will inevitably turn to debates on the best (and worst) players on the field. So we thought this would be as good a time as any to mix things up. We know all about the best players on the field. But what about those guys who have interesting stories to tell off the pitch? Herewith, we present our Major League Soccer All-Interesting Team:
Troy Perkins (DC United): After researching the lives of Venetian women during the Renaissance to complete his Humanities degree from the University of South Florida in 2003, Perkins supplemented his minimum-wage MLS income by working in a sporting goods store in his early years in the league. Then he found a part-time job as a mortgage-loan processor. After DC United practice, he'd head over to the First National Bank of Arizona's office in D.C. An avid reader of the Wall Street Journal and a student of poetry, Perkins expects to pick up his career in mortgages when he hangs up his cleats in MLS.
|Bobby Boswell had guts as a kid -- on Nickelodeon.|
Bobby Boswell (Houston Dynamo): He was only 11 years old, but he wasn't going to back down. Boswell looked menacingly into the camera as he was about to participate in Nickelodeon's game show "Guts." (For highlights, click here.) Boswell indeed had guts: He somehow made it onto the show even though he didn't meet the weight requirement (he's not talking about how he circumvented the rules, by the way). Although he got trounced in several events, Boswell won -- what else? -- the soccer competition as well as the final challenge, earning him a silver medal. It's an achievement, Boswell has said, that beats anything he's done on a soccer field, which includes winning three caps for the U.S. national team and being voted one of the land's 50 hottest bachelors by Cosmo magazine in 2006.
Ty Harden (Toronto FC): Harden would make a terrific answer to a trivia question: Which MLS player retired at the age of 23 after an impressive rookie season to become a volunteer? In 2007, after he'd emerged as one of the league's best young defenders, Harden left the game to finish his degree at the University of Washington. From there, he headed to Nairobi, Kenya, where he worked as a volunteer for the Hamomi Children's Center. For months, Harden helped get children off the street, taught classes and helped Hamomi find land for a new school -- with a soccer team, naturally. Harden returned to MLS for the 2009 season with the Colorado Rapids.
Adrian Cann (Toronto FC): Before becoming a central defender by trade and representing Canada, Cann was a male model. It wasn't exactly planned. Walking the streets of downtown Toronto, an 18-year-old Cann was approached by a modeling scout. Before long, he found himself represented by the prestigious Boss Model Management in New York City. He hit the runway at New York Fashion Week and modeled for several brands, including Calvin Klein, before hitting a crossroads. In 2000, when he was 19, a gig shooting for Calvin Klein's underwear campaign clashed with a recruiting trip for the University of Louisville. At the insistence of his father, Cann decided to focus on soccer -- though he still fancies the odd runway job now and then.
Stephane Auvray (Kansas City Wizards): To be a successful midfielder, it helps to anticipate a play or two in advance. Such forward thinking comes naturally to Auvray. The Wizards' holding midfielder was a chess prodigy growing up in Guadeloupe. He faced some of the world's masters, but never became one himself. The seven daily hours of practice that chess demanded conflicted with his aspirations to play professional soccer. So Auvray laced up his boots full-time as a teenager, though he hopes to embark on a semi-pro chess career after he's finished playing soccer.
|The Wizards' Stephane Auvray is always thinking a few moves ahead, thanks to his days as a child chess prodigy.|
Danny Cruz (Houston Dynamo): Was it going to be American football or European football? In high school, Cruz dedicated himself to the position of running back. But his coaches wanted to find a way for him to stay in shape during the off-season, so they recommended that he pick up soccer. With virtually no technique or grasp of the game, Cruz went on to set a JV scoring record and lead the varsity soccer team to the Arizona state championship. He was also selected to participate on the U-17 national team. So, even though the running back was recruited by the University of Colorado, Cruz decided that soccer was his destiny. He played for two seasons at UNLV before being drafted as an elite Generation Adidas player by the Dynamo and moving up to the U-20 national team just six years after taking up the sport.
Ryan Smith (Kansas City Wizards): The 23-year-old winger may have left England for Kansas, but Smith hasn't forgotten his heritage. Just listen to his first single, "Summer Flowers," in which he raps about his youth on the streets of London. Although he remains mostly mum on the subject, Smith is aiming to finish up his debut album soon. That should shed more light on the musical aspirations of the Arsenal academy graduate who performs as "Smudge."
Marcelo Saragosa (Chivas USA): For a guy who's not supposed to use his hands, Saragosa sure is handy with a table tennis paddle. The Brazilian played ping pong competitively as a child. Word is, he was a regional champion back home, though the painfully modest Saragosa won't confirm. Once he hit the big leagues -- of MLS, that is -- he would play pick-up games against fellow players. But he so resoundingly dominated the competition, which included ping pong stud Jonathan Bornstein, that Saragosa got bored and barely picks up a paddle anymore. Oh, and he was a promising young handball player, too.
Dwayne DeRosario (Toronto FC): Veganism was never much of a departure for De-Ro, whose parents are from Guyana and raised him on root vegetables: sweet potato, plantain, okra and cassava. In 1994, DeRosario became a devout vegan because of his lactose intolerance. Precise in what he eats, the Toronto FC forward grows and cooks his own vegetables in his backyard. When he played briefly in Germany, he would scour the country's African markets to find his veggie fix. His specialty is a West Indian stew of tofu, curry sauce, steamed cabbage, potatoes, brown rice, basmati rice and broccoli.
Zak Boggs (New England Revolution): There's quite a bit more to this rookie forward than the two goals he scored in his first MLS start last May. Check out this clip of him jumping rope. Not too shabby, right? Boggs has twice competed in the national jump-roping championships, though you won't find him bragging too much about it. His sister is a two-time world champion. But jump-roping was just the start. Boggs also embarked on a marble-shooting career. After his talent was discovered in the fourth grade, he went on to win county champions and subsequently the West Virginia state championships, going 52-0. The title also earned him a scholarship.
|When Dax McCarty and Atiba Harris were chosen in the expansion draft, manager Schellas Hyndman went shopping during the offseason. But can he get his new players to jell in time?|
Sanna Nyassi (Seattle Sounders): Nyassi knows how to win the toughest of battles. At 16, the quick forward hit a significant roadblock in his soccer development -- he contracted malaria. Against the odds, he not only beat the disease, but also made a recovery so complete that he could resume playing soccer at a high level. But a few years later, Nyassi caught malaria again, this time with an even worse chance of survival. Yet Nyassi again defied expectations and returned to the pitch. Since joining the Sounders, he has become the club's ambassador for the cause and helped represent the league in the Nothing but Nets initiative, which raises money for malaria nets in Africa. So far, he has helped raise over $30,000 -- or approximately 3,000 nets -- and has worked on fostering awareness by speaking about his experiences at local schools.
Schellas Hyndman (FC Dallas): Hyndman might just be the most dangerous man in MLS. When he was just 6 years old, he fled with his family from Macau, a Portuguese colony run by China, to the U.S. This was after his parents of Portuguese lineage had already left China when Mao ordered all foreigners to leave. In America, Hyndman ran with a gang; he bears a three-inch scar on his waist as a souvenir. He also eventually mastered Toide, a martial art resembling Aiki Jujutsu, as a 10th degree black belt. Hyndman opened a martial arts school that he ran for decades while coaching soccer at Southern Methodist University. Before that, Hyndman, now 59, fought professionally in a predecessor to MMA.
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a soccer writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.