Starting XI: Will MLS newcomers really pay off?

The top 11 storylines heading into the holiday weekend...

11) What does the reported partnership between MLS and USL PRO portend?

It’s not a done deal yet, but the two leagues seem to be well along the path towards crafting an arrangement that would give MLS reserves a chance to get meaningful games under their belts in the third-tier league, perhaps even as complete teams in cases where there’s no USL PRO club team in their vicinity. This would mark a crucial step forward in the league’s efforts to develop young talent.

10) Is the Generation adidas program downshifting?

We’re hearing some chatter about GA contract offers to talented college underclassmen being less lucrative these days. That could signal a desire to move the program’s wages closer to Homegrown deals, or perhaps it’s just a sign that this year’s crop isn’t quite as stacked as past editions. It all serves to dial up the intrigue ahead of next month’s MLS Combine and SuperDraft.

9) Can Toronto FC and Gale Agbossoumonde get back on track together?

This week saw a marriage between a club and a player who share a reputation for unfulfilled potential. TFC are betting they can coax the best out of a young defender and US youth international who’s been branded the Next Big Thing for longer than he’s had a driver’s license. “Boss” should benefit from a bit of stability and the tutelage of veteran teammates like Darren O’Dea and Danny Califf.

8) How will US international Michael Parkhurst fare in the Bundesliga?

MLS and its fans should be very proud to see one of the league’s most inspiring and resourceful alumni continue his career’s upward movement with a move to German side Augsberg after showing his quality at Denmark’s FC Nordsjaelland. The former Rev (right) has his work cut out for him as he joins a club deep in the relegation zone, however.

7) Can new clubs in three hot MLS markets help the new women’s pro league find success?

Following in the footsteps of two failed predecessors, the National Women’s Soccer League has a tall task ahead as it gears up for its inaugural season. One intriguing difference this time around: new clubs eager to capture the soccer mania in Portland, Seattle and Kansas City. Portland Thorns FC are even a sister club to the Timbers and have offered special ticket offers to the Timbers’ season ticket membership and waiting list.

6) Is the capture of college star Gyasi Zardes a sign of the Galaxy’s future dominance?

Sometimes life just isn’t fair: The Homegrown system has enabled the NCAA’s top talent to drop right into the defending MLS Cup champs’ laps. If the booming SoCal youth scene continues to churn out players like Zardes for the Galaxy (and hopefully Chivas USA as well), it could make matters even tougher for their league rivals.

5) What do D.C. United have in store with their new outreach to local youth clubs?

Meanwhile out East, the Black-and-Red just announced a new partnership with Freestate Soccer Alliance, one of Maryland’s top producers of young players, to spot and groom talent cooperatively. D.C. expects to craft more such arrangements throughout its Mid-Atlantic stomping grounds, just as the Philadelphia Union are already doing a few hours to the north.

4) Will Peguy Luyindula be the Red Bulls’ next signing?

The charismatic French attacker has been heavily linked to RBNY in the European media (and in his own declarations as well), speaks English and clearly enjoyed his summer visit to the States with Paris Saint-Germain, the wealthy club which has rarely granted him playing time of late. It surely helps that he’s a FOT (friend of Thierry Henry) who seems keen on a new adventure at the tail end of his career. But are the Bulls collecting too many 30-something foreigners to keep pace in the tight Eastern Conference?

3) What should Sounders fans make of Osvaldo Alonso’s visit to East London?

Training stint, trial – call it what you will, but there’s little doubt that EPL side West Ham are running the rule over Seattle’s favorite Cuban-American ballhawk (right). It will take a healthy offer to pry him away from SSFC but no one should be surprised if the ambitious Alonso – who has climbed tenaciously from a scared, penniless defector to one of the top midfielders in his adopted country – elects to challenge himself in the world’s most popular league.

2) Can the Houston Dynamo bring comfort to aching hearts in Newtown, Conn.?

Kudos to club president Chris Canetti and the rest of the Orange for reaching out to the tragedy-stricken community with the arrangement of “Soccer Night in Newtown” on Jan. 7, an event designed to bring the area’s suffering children some measure of fun through the beautiful game.

1) Will Claudio Bieler prove the final piece in Sporting’s quest to bring the MLS Cup back to KC?

Even after two excellent regular seasons and a US Open Cup championship, SKC are not standing pat as they seek the breakthrough to their franchise’s second league title. If their new Argentine Designated Player can stay anywhere near the prolific scoring pace he set at his previous destinations, 2013 could take on a distinctly Sporting blue hue.