Wellington, Fla. – March 12, 2017 – The 2017 USPA Gold Cup® opened Sunday with a double-header at the International Polo Club Palm Beach (IPC). Both games resulted in last-gasp victories. In the first matchup Valiente defeated Coca-Cola 11-10. In the 3 p.m. featured match on Engel & Völkers field, Orchard Hill won 8-7 in the final second of the game over Audi Polo Team.
Audi made their 2017 season debut with a lineup featuring 2016 players Marc Ganzi, Rodrigo Andrade and Gonzalito Pieres, an effective combo who reached last year’s United States Open Polo Championship® semifinals, and added 6-goaler Tomas Pieres.
It was clear from the start that Audi was game-ready. They opened the day with two quick goals by Gonzalito Pieres and Andrade, taking a 2-0 lead. Orchard Hill missed both shot attempts, a common storyline of the game for the team, who struggled to convert shots at goal the entire game. Nonetheless Orchard Hill was packing heat: 10-goaler Facundo Pieres, one of the elite penalty shooters in the sport. The key for Audi was to avoid putting him on the penalty line, but they couldn’t pull it off in the second chukker. Three attempts by Facundo resulted in 2 goals, with Polito Pieres adding a goal from the field to tie the game at 3-all.
Orchard Hill relied on a two-man strategy with the Pieres cousins. One drove forward and the other provided support in the trailing position or blocking the defender. While it was effective in generating scoring chances (with Orchard Hill shooting at goal 17 times), it was uncharacteristic of them to only shoot 24% from the field for the game. Audi struggled to take advantage in the back-and-forth game but ran into a bleak stretch. They only converted 2 of 8 shots and missed both penalty attempts in the third, fourth and fifth chukkers, preventing Audi from breaking away in a game that eventually came down to the last few plays.
With Orchard Hill trailing by 2 goals, Facundo Pieres put down the hammer, scoring 2 goals from the field. After a late Orchard Hill foul gave Audi a penalty 5 in their defending half with less than a minute remaining, Jota Chavanne forced a steal, leading to a Pieres breakaway. Sprinting to goal on a full-field run, Pieres put the ball through the posts in the final second of play. His sixth goal of the day gave Orchard Hill an 8-7 victory.
To top off the day, Facundo Pieres was named MVP, and “Jazzita,” a pony he played, was Best-Playing Pony.
Valiente Clings to Lead, Tops Coca-Cola 11-10
Earlier in the day Coca-Cola tried mightily, but in the end to no avail, to bounce back against a Valiente team that had beaten them soundly in the opening round of the previous tournament (2017 C.V. Whitney Cup).
Two quick goals Sunday by Diego Cavanagh and Matias Torres Zavaleta had Valiente out to an early 2-0 lead with Coca-Cola appearing to be on their heels, as they were last time the teams played. This time, however, a strategy change by Coca-Cola changed their fortunes for a serious stretch.
Coca-Cola began to put intense pressure on Adolfo Cambiaso and used Miguel Novillo Astrada coming forward. Novillo Astrada scored goals in the first and third chukkers to help Coca-Cola draw even with Valiente. The change in tactics seemed to baffle Valiente. In the third chukker they didn’t record a shot or penalty attempt. Coca-Cola controlled play,
shooting at goal 5 times and scoring twice, while adding two more goals from the penalty line to win the third chukker 4-0 behind Julio Arellano’s 3 consecutive goals.
The fourth chukker continued in similar fashion, but in the fifth Valiente finally decoded the Coca-Cola defense. Valiente broke through for three goals, with Cavanagh scoring his fifth and sixth goals of the day while limiting Coca-Cola to a single goal. That gave Valiente a 1-goal lead heading into the final chukker. Although they couldn’t convert any of their 4 shots from the field, Valiente controlled possession in the sixth. They gave Coca-Cola just one penalty attempt, which Arellano converted to match the penalty 1 awarded to Cambiaso. Valiente held on for an 11-10 victory.
The tournament continues Sunday, March 19. Orchard Hill faces Valiente at noon, and Coca-Cola plays Audi in the 3 p.m. featured match on Engel & Völkers field.
All games in the 2017 USPA Gold Cup® are being live streamed by the USPA Polo Network: uspolo.org.
Game report, stats and photographs provided by International Polo Club Palm Beach.