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DC standouts show off bodies for ESPN

WASHINGTON -- They swear that they didn't see it coming.D.C. United standouts Ben Olsen, Jaime Moreno, Santino Quaranta, Clyde Simms, Bryan Namoff and Chris Pontius have all spent plenty of time roaming the field at RFK Stadium, usually while wearing their club's black-and-red home kit on game nights. But they caught a rare case of stage fright when a somewhat different uniform was handed to them when ESPN The Magazine came calling on one hot, sunny day over the summer as part of a photo shoot for "The Body Issue," a commemoration of the pro athlete's most sacred possession.Photographer Matthias Clamer and his crew instructed the six to don their cleats, game socks, an ESPN robe and little else before they took the field. The players knew that several pieces of hardware from the club's crowded trophy case would figure into the shoot, but the full consequences of the artist's concepts did not truly hit home until they were asked to drop their robes to the RFK turf for a mock-up of the wall used to defend free kicks."None of us knew what we were really getting into. We just knew were going to be posing with the trophies and I think some of those other pictures were taking," Namoff said. "It was a little bit of a shock to us that they wanted us to try to jump as a wall."After a few moments' hesitation, Olsen disrobed and his teammates followed suit, setting the stage for what must rank as one of the unusual home-field performances in United history. For about half an hour, the group assumed the wall's traditional protective pose and jumped, over and over, as the crew hunted for the perfect shot.Pontius, a United rookie and the shoot's youngest participant, has gotten accustomed to the postgame routine in the D.C. locker room, where members of the media flood into the team's inner sanctum for interviews while players are coming and going from the showers in various states of undress. But the ESPN shoot blew all that out of the water, to say the least."We're out on the field, six of us all together, naked in an awkward photo shoot, as you guys can see, being asked to jump up and down numerous times as they go around and get their pretty angles and whatnot," he laughed. "It's a lot different than being interviewed after a game while you're in a towel."Both Pontius and Namoff consider themselves lucky not to be in Olsen and Quaranta's place in the foreground of the photo that wound up in the magazine. But Namoff nonetheless drew his share of -- ribbing ("His performance in the shoot -- what was he doing?" cracked Pontius) -- for his unique facial and body contortions."I don't know if it was necessarily my best look, but I was trying to act as if a ball was coming for me. So I don't know if I really have any acting skills in me," said the veteran defender. "I was trying to make it lifelike, as if a ball was coming at us. But apparently the photo they took isn't making me look too good."All six players have gotten plenty of texts, e-mails and phone calls from friends and family since "The Body Issue" hit the stands, with reactions ranging from amusement to shock to bewilderment."The wife loves it. Any chance that she has to take a crack at me, any opportunity to make fun of me is all the best for her. Family, they were, I think shellshocked is the term that comes to mind," said Namoff, who admits to being gunshy about future nude shoots."I don't know. I think all the guys will probably want some monetary incentive to ever do this again."But he and his teammates are hopeful that their embarrassment pays off in the form of bigger and better exposure, so to speak, for their league and their sport."There's been mixed reviews. I think Jaime said it well the other day: [as long as] we're doing it to make the sport bigger," said Pontius. "Soccer isn't as big as other sports in America, we're trying to get it to that level and it's going to take -- as much as some people would disagree -- something like this. It brings more attention to the sport -- in a good or a bad way, attention for the sport is good."