Starting XI: Top 11 questions heading into the new year

The countdown of the 11 most intriguing questions facing MLS clubs, players and coaches heading into the weekend.

11) What’s your favorite 2011 moment, and how will you remember it in a decade or so?

A new year’s arrival offers the chance to take stock of milestones and memories, and the past 12 months have offered many of both for MLS clubs. In the bigger picture, an upstart league that once seemed star-crossed and fragile has nearly doubled in size and grown in myriad other encouraging ways that would have dazzled those fretting for its survival 10 years ago, after the disquieting end to the 2001 season.

10) Have European loan deals become the hip way to dodge an ever-lengthening preseason?

US national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann may think the MLS season is too short, but the rank-and-file players who must endure the long, slow buildup of winter conditioning have reason to disagree. Considering the long days, grinding fitness work and remote locales of preseason, it’s easy to imagine how an adventurous stint with an overseas club might hold more allure.

9) What, if anything, does it mean that this year’s Generation adidas class is one of the older ones in the program’s history?

Generation adidas is meant to identify and nurture young American talent, which has often meant teenagers ranging as young as 14 (set by Freddy Adu when he signed with the league in 2003). This year’s crop trends older, at least for the time being, with an average age of 20.8 and NCAA experience across the board. Mere coincidence, or might college soccer be picking up its game, developmentally speaking?

8) Will Blas Pérez move north?

The big Panamanian striker has scored goals at nearly every stop on his globe-trotting career to date and excelled in CONCACAF competition. He’s drawn interest from MLS teams before, and the impending collapse of his Mexican club Indios de Ciudad Juárez may make him a free agent just in time to join the growing list of Central Americans bound for the league in 2012.

7) OK, LA, is London calling or what?

The Galaxy plucked Robbie Keane out of a dead-end situation at Tottenham last summer, and the Irishman helped LA win MLS Cup. Now, the rumor mill is humming with talk that one of two Chelsea icons, either Frank Lampard or Didier Drogba, may move to SoCal. Though it’s probably still unlikely for now, luring another big name from the English capital would be the most appropriate response to the potential loss of David Beckham.

6) How will 2012 treat those on the road to recovery?

So many impact players suffered major injuries over the past year: Steve Zakuani, David Ferreira, Javier Morales, Chris Pontius – and the list goes on. Their return to action portends a massive boost for their teams. Yet the healing process can be maddeningly uncertain, which is probably why Seattle coach Sigi Schmid downplayed Zakuani’s timeframe for full fitness this week, even suggesting that the winger won’t really be back until ’13.

5) What should American soccer make of Preston Zimmerman’s remarks?

On Wednesday, the former US youth international used his Twitter feed to fire off a stunning broadside against Klinsmann for seeking out German-born players with American heritage at the expense of “true, real Americans who would live and die for this country.” Is Zimmerman, who plays his club soccer for German third-tier side SV Darmstadt 98, a xenophobe, or a straight-talker prompting a useful debate about the national team's identity?

4) Where is Diego Restrepo’s journey taking him?

Born in Venezuela, raised in Colombia, and molded into an elite player in South Florida and Charlottesville, Va., the 23-year-old netminder impressed stateside at both the collegiate and youth international levels before making a promising start to his pro career at América de Cali. Now, he’s returning to the land of his birth to join Deportivo Táchira, just in time for Copa Libertadores play. Klinsmann’s radar may be pinging.

3) Can Titi go back again?

An idea that seemed incredible just a few weeks ago is apparently now a reality: Thierry Henry is returning to duty for Arsenal. The Red Bulls DP has been training with the club that made him a living legend and it seems manager Arsene Wenger sees him as perfect short-term cover while Marouane Chamakh and Gervinho take part in the African Cup of Nations. Yet Henry’s own legacy would impose daunting expectations, even on just a two-month loan.

2) What about Tim Ream?

TH14’s younger teammate is also at the center of transfer-window chatter.  Bolton Wanderers are set to sell center back Gary Cahill to Chelsea next month and Ream is being eyed to fill the gap. Last season, the St. Louis product was hit with a classic case of the MLS sophomore jinx after a stellar rookie campaign. Is now the best time for him to move abroad?

1) Has Brad Guzan’s moment finally arrived?

Two American goalkeepers notched clean sheets amid the English Premier League’s busy slate of Boxing Day matches on Monday. Tottenham’s 2-0 road win over Norwich City was Brad Friedel’s 124th shutout in EPL play, while Guzan earned his first with Aston Villa’s 0-0 draw at Stoke City. Guzan has waited years – first as Friedel’s understudy, then as Shay Given’s – for a real shot at a starting job at Villa, and with Given injured, he seems to be taking his chance.

Charles Boehm is a contributor to MLSsoccer.com.