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Tucked away in the southern Caribbean, near the northern point of South America, Trinidad, one-half of the island nation of Trinidad and Tobago, holds all the charms of the tropics. The inland terrain is a mixture of scenic mountains and floral plains surrounded by long, lazy beaches and crystal-blue coastline.

But even on a seemingly benign island, trouble can be found on its streets.

Scott Sealy knew this.

His mother, Annette, who raised Scott and his three siblings by herself since he was 4, had given her second-youngest child the freedom early to roam and play around St. James, a small town near the nation’s capital, Port of Spain. With Annette working full time as a manager for Trinidad’s only telecommunications company, Scott was left much to his own devices around age 10.

Sometimes, he said with a smile, he’d stay out late and get into mischief, but nothing more serious than climbing a neighbor’s fence and taking fruit off the trees. He took his mother’s advice and steered clear of the “ghetto” areas of the town, with their gangs and drugs. Instead, he turned to swimming and soccer.

“She taught me the only way to prosper on an island is to get into sports,” said Sealy, who’s a high-scoring rookie with the Wizards. “Otherwise, it’s easy to hang out in the streets and get into trouble.”

Sealy took up swimming and set national records in the breaststroke before growing into a soccer scoring machine. He has paid major dividends for the Wizards this season. Sealy’s nine goals lead the team, and he’s one of the front-runners for MLS Rookie of the Year.

“He was always competitive,” Annette Sealy said. “From grade three, I remember him playing soccer, swimming and always being athletic. I’ve never been athletic, and neither was his father, so I’ve always believed that his ability was God’s gift.”

When Scott Sealy was 9, an uncle who coached swimming at the local pool invited him to try the sport.

As it turned out, he could do plenty.

“The breaststroke was so natural for me,” Sealy said. Then, he added with the broad smile and uproarious laughter that come so easily and often to him: “Maybe it has to do with my feet. When I walk, my feet point out, so maybe that helped with the kick.”

Whatever it was, Sealy’s progression in the sport was prolific. By 10, he’d already set his first national age-group record in the 50-meter breaststroke. He set many more records over the next six years.

“When I was 16, my 100 breast time was faster than the women’s world record,” Sealy said. “I think I have a couple of records still standing.”

When he was in his mid-teens, Sealy earned two bronze medals, one individually and one in a relay, at the CC Can, the biggest meet in Central America and the Caribbean region.

“I thought if I’d kept swimming, I could have one day been in an Olympic final,” he said.

If …

“I was in love with swimming,” Sealy said. But, just as he was always able to see the bigger picture and make prudent decisions growing up on the streets, he had another epiphany around the time he turned 14 and was entering high school.

“There was not a lot of money in swimming,” he said. “Everyone was playing soccer, and I thought this was a way to make a living through sports.”

He tried to swim and play soccer for two years, but at 16 he made the difficult decision that he was done swimming.

“I tried it for a while, but I just couldn’t do it,” he said. “I just decided soccer was for me.”

Sealy took to his second sport as naturally as he did his first. He said his St. Mary’s College (High School) team, which played in Trinidad’s north zone, was always competitive. But the team never really won anything.

Still, he said, “I always scored goals.”

Sealy’s proclivity for scoring — he finished with 55 goals and 40 assists during his career at St. Mary’s — gained the attention of Trinidad’s under-20 national team. It was while playing with that team that he was noticed by Wake Forest soccer coach Jay Vidovich.

“When I saw Scott play, I knew right away he could do what I was looking for when I went down there,” Vidovich said. “I wanted a player who was strong on the ball, could hold the ball and distribute it to teammates as well as score.”

Though Sealy always has been mature beyond his years, he had the advantage of actually being older than his peers because of the Trinidad prep system. St. Mary’s was designated an “elite” high school, and students had the option of attending an extra two years and having some credits transfer when they left for college. So Sealy was 19 when he graduated.

He already was receiving invitations to play in a professional league on Trinidad. But the level of soccer wasn’t very high, and neither was the pay. He decided to leave home for Wake Forest, in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Still, nothing could prepare him for what awaited. There was cold weather. Sealy had never experienced snow or, for that matter, any temperature under 60 degrees. He was in a foreign land and knew no one.

“It was tough,” he said. “A whole different culture. I wasn’t used to that much structure. I had to adjust.”

He did. By his senior year, Sealy led the Demon Deacons with 17 goals and 10 assists. He was chosen for the all-conference first team and as an All-American by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America.

“His senior year, he was our team,” Vidovich said.

Sealy had caught the eye of Wizards coach Bob Gansler long before then.

“I first saw him when he was a freshman at Wake,” said Gansler, who selected Sealy with the 11th overall pick in the 2005 MLS SuperDraft. “He didn’t play like a freshman.”

Sealy hasn’t played like an MLS rookie forward, either. He scored his first professional goal in his third game and hasn’t slowed since. He especially went on a tear in August, scoring four goals in five games, a feat that earned him MLS’ player of the month.

“He’s established himself in a certain style he wants to play in,” said Josh Wolff, who plays up with Sealy at forward for the Wizards. “He’s able to fit between the central backs, and that gives guys like Sasha (Victorine) and I the freedom to move around and do different things.”

Sealy’s nine goals are just two shy of the MLS record for a rookie. The Chicago Fire’s Damani Ralph had 11 in 2003.

The Wizards have four regular-season games remaining, although Sealy isn’t sure how many he’ll get to play. He’s been seeing spot duty for the Trinidad and Tobago national team in World Cup qualifying. That team, which still is trying to qualify for the 2006 World Cup, has two qualifiers remaining, which could interfere with the remaining Wizards schedule.

“You only get to be a rookie once,” Sealy said. “So, yeah, in the back of my mind, it would be a nice way to know, yeah, I had a good year. But I might get called up for the next two qualifiers. So, I might only play three more games.

“If I get it, that’d be great. If not ….”

He just sits back, smiles and lets out another of those big laughs.

Life as a rookie in anything can be a virtual whirlwind. And it’s certainly been that for Sealy this year.

As it was when he went to Wake Forest, he again found himself in a foreign land, not knowing a soul. His first five months here, he lived by himself. He still doesn’t own a car. A couple of Wizards teammates live in the same Overland Park apartment complex, and whenever Sealy needs to get somewhere, he borrows one of their cars.

He worked his way through the difficulties, and now life is better. In July, his fiancée, Kaomi Wylie, whom he met when they were 15 and in high school, and the couple’s 2-year-old son, Dante, moved here and joined him.

“It’s all about adjusting for now,” Wylie said as Sealy chased an energetic Dante around the small apartment. “I think it’s helped a lot having us here. The reason we came over here was to give him a support system. It’s worked out well so far.”

All the hardships and adjustments might fade to distant memories if the Wizards can win the MLS Cup in November. Winning a championship is the one thing Sealy hasn’t done yet.

“I’m hoping here in Kansas City I can get it right,” he said. “It’d be great if we could do that in this first year.”

And if he were to get that and the league rookie scoring mark?

Sealy’s eyes bugged out and he threw his head back for one more roaring guffaw.

“Merry Christmas,” he said.