Starting XI: Top 11 questions heading into the weekend

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

11. Deuce vs. Donovan: Who ya got?

For years, US fans have eagerly watched Yanks perform in glitzy European leagues. But rarely have two of the best field players in the nation’s history faced off in a big game like Friday’s FA Cup showdown between Fulham and Everton, where longtime national team mates Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan will be expected to key their respective teams’ attacks.

10. What are the takeaways from the US men’s national team’s January camp?

Keen competition for spots, 12-hour workdays and a testing trip to Central America – little wonder that pundits have been seeking a new, more accurate moniker for “Camp Cupcake.” Jurgen Klinsmann declined to evaluate players by name following Wednesday’s 1-0 road win over Panama, so we’ll have to wait for the next round of call-ups to see which youngsters have pushed their way into his thinking.

9. Where does RSL netminder Nick Rimando fit in the USMNT picture?

For many observers, the oldest US player on the field in Panama was also the best, as Rimando’s leadership and shot-stopping steadied Klinsmann’s green side. Smaller in size than most goalkeepers and stuck on the margins of the national team for years, the quality and longevity of Salt Lake’s favorite “homeboy” should be giving Klinsmann food for thought.  

8. Can Jon Busch backstop an Earthquakes revival in 2012?

Like Rimando, San Jose’s veteran goalkeeper has repeatedly defied the doubters over a long MLS career. He was far too busy for coach Frank Yallop’s liking last season, yet impressed enough to earn a new contract that gives the Quakes a savvy presence to lead their rebuilt defense.

7. Will the US women take care of business in Vancouver?

The USWNT had to reach the 2011 Women’s World Cup the hard way, after a shock loss to Mexico during CONCACAF play forced a playoff with Italy. Yet Pia Sundhage’s squad has been merciless in the group round of Olympic qualifying, winning three games by a combined score of 31-0. Now a semifinal win over Costa Rica will book their tickets to London – though everyone is watching to see whether ‘keeper Hope Solo can overcome a quadriceps injury to start.

6. Will former Red Bull Tim Ream find his footing in the English Premier League?

As if his 2011 campaign in New York wasn’t challenging enough, the thoughtful center back has finally completed his transfer to EPL side Bolton Wanderers, whose battle against relegation is only one aspect of the stern test awaiting him in only his third professional season.

“After a rough year, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Ream told The New York Times. “Last year was tough, not stop-playing-and-crawl-in-a-hole-and-give-up terrible tough, but it definitely taught me a lot.”

5. Will RBNY secure their preferred replacement for Ream?

Hans Backe & Co. want Wilman Conde to fill their gap in central defense, but that requires making a deal with Chicago, who own the right of first refusal for their former standout. The two clubs once feuded bitterly over the Colombian but now a straightforward transaction seems to suit all parties.

4. English giants Tottenham Hotspur are reportedly already eyeing destinations for a summer US tour. Who else might be visiting?

A Thursday report in the Baltimore Business Journal suggested that Gareth Bale (right) and the London club is considering a three-city swing through North America this summer, with LA one of the markets on the trip. Presently in third place in the EPL, eight points behind leaders Manchester City, Spurs are chasing a berth in the UEFA Champions League and their slick brand of soccer figures to draw well stateside. Which other European giants will visit?

3. Are things looking up in the Great White North?

Vancouver is putting its best foot forward as CONCACAF Women’s Olympic hosts. TFC inked two sturdy-looking defensive additions. Montreal wrapped up an encouraging preseason camp in Mexico, and on the international front, Villarreal midfield dynamo Jonathan de Guzman is apparently preparing to don the colors of his homeland after years spent trying to break into the Dutch national team. Canadian soccer has had a very impressive week.

2. Will D.C. United’s latest South American be a hit, or a miss?

D.C. United completed the acquisition of veteran Argentinean center back Emiliano Dudar from Swiss side BSC Young Boys this week, continuing the capital club’s long tradition of South American imports. The thing is, sensational signings like Jaime Moreno and Christian Gómez have lately become scarce, while busts like Franco Niell and Rodrigo Brasesco (who was barely in D.C. long enough for a cup of coffee last year) have left many Black-and-Red fans disillusioned.

1.Will RBNY’s impressive youth pipeline pay even greater dividends in the future?

In 2010, Juan Agudelo became the first Red Bulls Academy product to join the senior team, and it looks like many more will follow in the US international’s footsteps: a whopping six RBNY youths have been accepted into US Soccer’s Bradenton Residency Program in Florida for this spring, three times more than any other club in the nation.

Charles Boehm is a contributor to MLSsoccer.com.