Last year's inaugural rundown of Roma's U-23 prospects was rather easy. As we set out making the list, it was pretty obvious who the heavyweights would be: Mattia Destro, Juan Iturbe, Adem Ljajic and Alessandro Florenzi. This time around, not so much. While Roma's youth cauldron is still bubbling over with exceptional talent, it's been exceedingly difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff in this year's addition, simply because so many of the obvious candidates have aged out of our artificial cutoff point, and those that remain haven't really separated themselves from the pack.
With that in mind, we're going to kick things off by focusing on a few fellows who narrowly missed our top ten countdown. Honestly, the names below could have reasonably fallen anywhere in the lower half of the top ten, but since many of them have yet to actually set foot on European soil, we'll consider that the drawing line. Spoiler alert: This does not apply to Gerson or Daniel De Silva. Hypocritical? Perhaps, but they're two of Roma's most intriguing prospects, deal with it!
Anyway, we'll start off the near-misses with a kid who has played in Europe and even made a bit of an impression in a cameo role last season.
Seemingly every year a fringe youth prospect makes a token appearance or two for Roma, but even by those meager standards, Daniele Verde was an unexpected debutant, as he was barely a blip on Roma's prospect radar. Verde made his debut against Palermo on the road in January, coming on as a 75th minute sub for Juan Iturbe, and he was, as one would expect, pretty nervous, taking only seven touches in those 15 minutes and looking anything but certain he belonged.
Verde would play a bit role throughout the winter, but without a doubt the high water mark of his rookie season was his fabulous turn against Cagliari, in which he set up both Roma goals in a 2-1 victory. Between his Primavera service and his cup of coffee with the senior club, Verde scored 14 goals in 33 appearances in all competitions.
Verde's calling card will always be his acceleration, flat line speed and crafty left foot. Ostensibly a right-winger and/or striker, areas in which Roma is packed with players not much older than him, it remains to be seen whether he actually makes his mark in the Capital.
However, nothing is assured with young players, so his time with Frosinone will be critical in whatever chance he stands at taking playing time from Juan Iturbe, Mohamed Salah, Gerson or Alessandro Florenzi....yikes.
Honestly, Verde's optimal value to Roma is probably as a quick injection of cash on the transfer market next summer or anytime thereafter, and there's really nothing wrong with that, it's yet another reason why Roma should cast a wide prospect net; players are assets in two regards, on the pitch and on the market. Verde will most likely be the latter, sad to say, but we never know what the future holds.
Another lefty, Politano is a bit of a late bloomer, at least by prospect standards. The local boy has made appearances for Roma and Italy at various youth levels, but has failed to figure in the senior club' s plans. Despite his relative lack of acclaim, Politano has made steady progress the past few seasons, drawing comparisons to Erik Lamela, admittedly a poor man's Lamela, but he has a similarly profiled game.
After being caught up in two separate Gianluca Caprari deals, Politano settled into life in Abruzzo. In two Serie B seasons with Pescara, Politano scored 12 goals and dished out 10 assists in all competitions. While this didn't necessarily garner Roma's attention, it was good enough for Sassuolo, who have taken Politano on loan for this coming season.
Politano is in a similar boat to Verde, though his is much further from the proverbial Roman shore, but he may just surprise us and become a valuable reserve. Verde possesses the higher upside, and given the glut of wingers in the ranks, that makes him a better transfer candidate than Politano, who is, at best, a quality reserve, but there is certainly value in that, particularly with the lower wages that accompany a player of his stature.
Anyone who comes with the personal recommendation of Luis Suarez, while also eliciting comparisons to Carlos Tevez, is certainly one worth watching. Roma were able to purchase 90% of Mendez's contract from Uruguayan side Penarol, fending off the likes of Barcelona, Inter Milan and Liverpool over the winter.
Mendez has decent size, strength and agility and, at this nascent point in his career, profiles as the prototypical number 10 and/or second striker, due to his technical skills and ability to beat players off the dribble. At only 19-years-old, Mendez has a few years to crack the rotation but his first year in Europe, which will be spent on loan with Perugia in Serie B, should be a boon to his development.
We'll end our near misses with Roma's other Nuevo Tevez, Newell's Old Boys striker Ezequiel Ponce, who Roma obtained last winter but won't make the trip from Argentina until December. Ponce, only 18-years-old, has the makings of an imposing, bullheaded striker, though he is not without technical ability. As you can see in the clip above, in addition to his stature, Ponce has decent speed, acceleration and dribbling ability, he also knocked home a few goals with his weaker left foot.
Out of all the names on this honorable mention list, he was the hardest to leave off the top ten, as he has the clearest path to playing time in Rome. As an out and out striker, Ponce should be coming into his own just as Edin Dzeko's contract expires, by which time Ponce will be all of 23-years-old.
Generally speaking, you should run the other way when tanks roll through your town, but The Tank, as he is affectionately known, is certain to be a welcomed addition to Roma's army when the time comes. In the short term, we'll have to keep an eye on where he goes once he arrives in Italy this spring. While he could surprise us and earn minutes behind Dzeko in the near future, odds are he'll be loaned out somewhere, and given his talent and potential, his is as important as loan spells come.
So, those are the honorable mentions, which, as we mentioned, could very well fall anywhere in our top ten. We'll unroll the official countdown this weekend, which kicks off with a pair of midfield prodigies. Stay tuned.