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Has Ezequiel Ponce's Time in Rome Finally Arrived?

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Hard to believe the Tank is still just 22-years-old.

Ajax v AEK Athens - UEFA Champions League Group E Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

We use the phrase “if it feels like we've been talking about ___________ forever” quite a bit around here, and for good reason. Part of my goal for CdT has always been to provide depth and breadth to Roma coverage, spanning all facets of the club, and given Roma's focus on youth players for much of our existence, we have devoted a lot of column space towards young players, be they Primavera prospects, perpetual loan victims or the rare kid who comes good on the first team, providing as many updates as we can as they move through the developmental chain.

Since our reformation in 2012, the inverse relationship between playing time and press coverage for Ezequiel Ponce has always set him apart from the pack. Dating as far back as August 2015, when he was an honorable mention in that year's U-23 countdown, Ponce has never been far from our headlines.

Starting with his performance in that summer's UEFA Youth League, in which he scored three goals, Ponce seem poised to not only be a regular feature on CdT but a star in the making. Hell, even after falling victim to Roma's ACL demon in December of that year, Ponce stormed back in time to guide the Primavera to the title in the spring of 2016, scoring nine goals in ten matches. And while Ponce was ostensibly called to the senior team after his Primavera heroics, the kid known as The Tank never (and still hasn't) made an appearance with Roma's senior side.

Ponce then took the well-worn path of fruitless loans, wasting away at Granada and later Lille for parts of two seasons, tallying only four goals in 60 some-odd appearances between 2017 and 2018.

With his career seemingly heading down the Iturbe path, Ponce's loan move to AEK Athens in the summer of 2018 seemed like a last-ditch effort, a make or break point for his European career, and with a paltry €6 million buyout option it didn't seem like Roma or Athens held much hope for his future either.

But then something wonderful happened. Ponce actually played, and played well. After starting the season's first two matches as a bit player in AEK's Champions League qualifiers, Ponce scored in his first ever league match, and seldom missed a beat all season long, grabbing 20 goals in 40 appearances (league and cup), never going more than five matches without scoring a goal.

And yet, for some reason, Athens chose not to exercise that option.

Whether or not AEK were coerced by Ponce, his reps, or someone with Roma is immaterial, the kid proved (for at least one year) that he can hack it in Europe, and with one of Edin Dzeko's sometimes clumsy feet already out the door, and with Patrik Schick's confidence hanging by a thread, Ponce's time in Roma may have finally arrived.

With a new coach not beholden to any one player in particular, if Ponce impresses this summer (presuming Roma intend on keeping him), he could easily push for significant minutes early in the season, and if his Athens for carries over, he may never relinquish the job.

As you can see from the clips below, Ponce quite often finds himself in the right place at the right time; pair that spatial awareness with the likes of Stephan El Shaarawy and Cengiz Ünder on the wing and Paulo Fonseca might be able to revive Roma's moribund attack.