One of my favorite annual features here is our Top 10 U-23 countdowns, an initiative we've been running for several years now with the men's club. And with Roma finally branching out into women's football in the summer of 2018, we were able to broaden the scope of this countdown to cover the young women fighting for a place in Betty Bavagnoli's Roma side. While Roma have a few core veterans (Elisa Bartoli, Vanessa Bernauer and Andrine Hegerberg, to name a few), the roster is bursting at the seams with young talent, including a league MVP (Manuela Giugliano) and a Young Player of the Year (Giada Greggi).
All of which makes sorting out a Top 10 list really, really, really difficult. In our first attempt last year, we had quite a debate on our hands, but fresh off a stunning World Cup run in France, Giguliano took the top honors, narrowly beating out the likes of Agnese Bonfantini, Annamaria Serturini and Greggi.
Will Giguliano repeat the feat this season? We'll soon find out, but let's kick off the countdown with five of Roma's youngest and most intriguing talents.
#10: Alice Corelli
Position: Forward | Age: 16 | Roma Appearances: 0 | Rank Last Year: 10th
Roma and Italy U-17 striker Alice Corelli retains the same spot in our U-23 countdown as last summer, despite a year of niggling injuries blocking her momentum. For the second pre-season in a row, the teenager has trained with Betty Bavagnoli’s first-team all summer and, this time, Corelli took less than a minute to make her mark on the pre-season friendlies.
It was Corelli who opened the scoring against Florentia, just a couple of weeks ago, inside the very first minute of a 4-0 friendly win. She was also included in the first-team trip to visit former Roma player Federica Di Criscio in hospital, after the latter had torn knee ligaments last season, so Corelli is firmly involved in the senior squad chemistry. It’s just a matter of where and when the striker will get her first taste of Serie A action.
Corelli brings power and a physical frame that belies her sixteen years of age, making her a handful for defenders who want to try and mark up close. She was the joint Primavera-top scorer of two seasons ago, and continued to pitch in at Primavera level last season, notably scoring a brace in the home Derby della Capitale against Lazio Primavera. The striker is one of three Italy U-17 talents that Roma are hoping to push to the next level, together with Roma midfielder Emma Severini and Roma Primavera defender Marika Massimino.
#9: Heden Corrado
Position: CB | Age: 18 | Roma Appearances: 8 | Rank Last Year: 7th
It’s fair to say wonderkid Corrado has become a CdT mascot for us. She’s been here since before being on the U-23 Countdown was the in-thing to do. Brought over from the RES Roma days in the summer of 2018, Corrado endured a tough Serie A debut season on several fronts, which meant last season was a year of recovery for Corrado on the sidelines, both physically and mentally.
While she’s learnt to bide her time under Betty Bavagnoli, the ball-playing defender still racked up consistent Italy U-17 appearances into the summer of 2019. But the Italy U-17 structure was a mess, with Corrado and Italy teammates playing through heavy defeats. That didn’t stop the federation pushing Corrado up two years ahead of her age group this season just gone by, where she began to turn out for the Italy U-19s alongside Roma teammate and Primavera striker Serena Landa last year.
Since then, momentum is firmly back in Corrado’s camp. As one of the best technical talents on the ball, Heden should be integral to Betty Bavagnoli’s plans soon enough. It feels like we’ve been saying that for a long time now, but the Roma backline really does need defenders who can move the ball around sharper and faster. On paper, Corrado is cast in that very mould. A return to Serie A action should be on the cards for her in 2020-21.
#8: Angelica Soffia
Position: FB | Age: 20 | Roma Appearances: 28 | Rank Last Year: N/A
It’s easy to count Soffia out, but she’s likely the only player in the squad who can say she played Champions League football at just 16 years of age. Describing herself as “a full-back by circumstance”, if Soffia has been included in all three seasons of A.S. Roma football since the club began then it’s because of her work ethic and will to put in the hard yards. Not known for being a big talker, the size and definition that Soffia carried into last summer’s pre-season said it all about how hard she’s been building herself up to compete.
“I’m a person who doesn’t have that much self-esteem,” Soffia confessed to the club’s official Instagram account during the pandemic lockdown, “so I wouldn’t have ever expected the fans to warm to me as far as football goes. It always makes me happy and motivates me to give the best of myself.”
And give the best of herself she has done, to date. Originally a midfielder, Soffia’s conversion to full-back first came at international level and stuck ever since. Despite having only just turned 20 years old last month, Soffia cracked the Italy U-21 team last season. She’s become a point of reference for her teammates on how work ethic can help beat the odds.
If she can find more confidence on the ball this season, she could figure to be an even bigger part in Roma’s future. Though she struggles with physically dribbling past opponents on the ball, Soffia was only one of Serie A’s leading players when it came to racking up yellow cards last year. It’s not only a hint that she never quits but, in her own words, that “in my role I have to sacrifice myself for the team.”
#7: Camelia Ceasar
Position: GK | Age: 21 | Roma Appearances: 13 | Rank Last Year: 6th
At this point, you have to feel somewhat bad for Ceasar. She signed on last season to deputize Rosalia Pipitone, a savvy veteran for club and country. After a dismal debut from Pipitone, Ceasar was given a chance between the sticks and never looked back. With six cleansheets in 13 appearances, only Juve and Italy's number one, Laura Giuliani, fared better than young Ceasar last season.
What Ceasar lacks in stature and brute strength, she more than makes up for with reflexes, agility, technique and courage. Ceasar is often out matched and over-sized in the box, but her quick leaping ability and fast twitch reflexes enable her to pluck shots and crosses out of the air with ease.
Like most undersized keepers, Ceasar's success is predicated upon vision, intelligence and timing; traits she possesses in abundance. And as a reward for her stellar debut with Roma, the club went out and signed another keeper: 25-year-old Rachele Baldi, herself a veteran of Serie A and the Italian National Team.
If her first season in the capital proved anything, it's that Ceasar is up for a challenge. Baldi has already seen significant minutes in the pre-season, but this challenge could push Ceasar's game to new heights.
#6: Tecla Pettenuzzo
Position: CB | Age: 20 | Roma Appearances: 13 | Rank Last Year: N/A
Another surprise from last season, Pettenuzzo was brought aboard from Sassuolo as a depth move behind Allyson Swaby and Federica Di Crisco...except no one told that to Pettenuzzo. After starting the season on the bench, Pettenuzzo stepped into the starting lineup in week two and made the job her own, making 13 appearances, including 11 starts.
With a level of poise, technique and understanding that belies her young age, Pettenuzzo was the perfect foil for the more physical Swaby on Roma's back-line. She displayed some of the telltale inconsistencies one expects of young defenders (late switches, ball watching, some rash challenges), but she was quick enough to close down virtually any attacker in the league, she read angles and predicted passing patterns well enough and generally toed the line between aggression and passivity well enough to make you think she’ll be a ten-year starter at the position, if not more.
With Roma signing Osinachi Ohale from Real Madrid this summer, Pettenuzzo will have a bit of a fight on her hands, but her future remains incredibly bright.
Stick with us tomorrow as we reveal the top five U-23 talents on Roma's impressive roster.