Wellington, Fla. – April 19, 2017 – The U.S. Open Polo Championship® Semifinals on Wednesday, April 19, featured a doubleheader at the International Polo Club Palm Beach in Wellington, Florida. Throngs of devoted polo fans who packed the fields, crowding the sidelines, were rewarded with two sensational semifinal matches. Orchard Hill defeated Flexjet 10-9 in overtime and Valiente breezed by Travieso 16-6, resulting in a 2015 U.S. Open Final rematch guaranteed to leave witnesses on the edge of their seats.
Orchard Hill Overtakes Flexjet 10-9 in OT
After suffering an initial loss to Valiente early in bracket play, U.S. Open defending champions Orchard Hill bested Audi in the quarterfinals to secure a semifinal position versus undefeated Flexjet. A family affair, the Pieres clan took to the field, brothers Nico and Gonzalito playing for Flexjet and their brother Facundo alongside cousin Polito for Orchard Hill.
“Today is a special day because we played against my cousins and his [Facundo’s] brothers. We know how they play and we continued to try to play the way that we do and forget about them being cousins and family.” –Polito Pieres
Testament to the caliber of players on the field, clean, wide open and flowing polo resulted in only two fouls in the first two chukkers. Despite Orchard Hill winning the initial bowl-in, followed by a series of beautiful runs, they were unable to find the goal in the first. Five minutes into play, Nico Pieres scored back-to-back goals for Flexjet, which was followed by another from Rodrigo Andrade in the second to gain an early three-goal lead. Juan Chavanne would finally put a score on the board for Orchard Hill at the end of the second.
“Normally our strategy is to control the ball as much as possible, but we couldn’t control the ball like we wanted, and today was not our day—I realized that and we started changing a lot. We started to get a little bit bolder, and put the pressure on them, and get rid of the ball a little bit more—and that is something we don’t like to do, but we had to do it in this game. It worked and we got even, but it continued to be a difficult game and they are a strong team.” – Facundo Pieres
Orchard Hill began to adjust their strategy in the third, Facundo Pieres capturing his first goal of the game off a short open backshot from Polito Pieres. A penalty 2 conversion from Flexjet doubled up their lead 4-2 to end a gripping albeit low-scoring first half.
The teams traded goals in the fourth to maintain the gap 5-3. A hat trick from Facundo Pieres, riding his bay mare Open Pandora, fired up the contest as Orchard Hill gained the lead 6-5. A field goal from Andrade followed by a heroic open tap into goal by Nico Pieres ended the fifth 7-6 in favor of Flexjet.
During sixth chukker play, Orchard Hill’s Facundo Pieres once again scored three consecutive goals to reclaim the lead 9-7. An unwavering Flexjet battled for possession closing the gap with a goal from Andrade. A minute left in play, Flexjet was awarded a critical penalty 2 equalizing opportunity, which Gonzalito Pieres calmly converted. Neither team were able to score in the remaining seconds of regulation time forcing an extra chukker.
Both teams missed opportunities at goal in the first few minutes of the sudden death overtime. A penalty 4 opportunity was awarded to Flexjet but Gonzalito Pieres was unable to deliver. Three minutes remaining, Flexjet mishit sending the ball over the boards resulting in a throw-in. Facundo Pieres snatched the ball out of the bowl-in and drilled it 100 yards toward goal, finishing off the rolling ball with a nearside tap for the win 10-9. When asked their triumph Orchard Hill team owner Steve van Andel answered, “It is fantastic, especially coming off of last year. It took so many years to get over the top last year, and now coming back we are in the finals again and it is spectacular, it is a great feeling. Boy it was a tough game, it was super tough.”
“I am very happy because this is our third year that we are playing together and the third year we are in the finals…I hope we can finish it by winning, that would be amazing. Right now, to be honest, I really want to win because of Polito, he has never won the U.S. Open and I really want to win the Open for him.” –Facundo Pieres
Valiente Gallops Past Travieso 16-6
First time U.S. Open contenders Travieso shocked polo fans with their quarterfinal upset over Coca-Cola to garner their semifinal position against powerhouse Valiente. Travieso won possession in the first bowl-in but Cambiaso quickly took control of the game, scoring two of Valiente’s three unanswered goals to capture an early lead 3-0. In the second and third Diego Cavanagh and Mariano Gonzalez dominated the scoring, alternating goals, each contributing several off the penalty line. Valiente was the clear leader throughout outscoring Travieso in all three chukkers of the first half to gain a formidable 9-3 lead.
Valiente continued their offensive onslaught in the fourth, adding two more goals to their tally; one a thrilling steal by Cavanagh which broke Sebastian Merlos’ mallet. A goal from team owner Teo Calle and a brilliant midair penalty save from Gonzalez kept Travieso in the game, 11-4. Travieso managed to tie Valiente in the fourth, each team adding a single goal; one from Cavanagh, his sixth of the day and another from Gonzalez on a high undefendable penalty 4 conversion. The score 12-5 entering the final chukker, an unrelenting Valiente dropped the hammer scoring four consecutive goals. On a Valiente knock-in Sebastian Merlos was able to steal the ball, expertly dribbling around his opponents for a final goal to end the game with a respectable score. Valiente secured their U.S. Open Final position with a resounding 16-6 victory. When asked about Valiente’s win team owner Bob Jornayvaz responded, “It is a big deal, and in our minds, the organization has been to the finals five out of five times, as Valiente it has been four out of five. We would love to win it again. It is always fun to play against Facundo and these two [pointing to Cambiaso and Cavanagh,] when they get on the field its magic to watch. Hopefully we put on a good show, we are looking forward to it.”
“A final is a final. It is a new game, and with a final you have to play it well, and I know how to play a final. I don’t think we have an edge in the final, what we need to do is what we did today, we played pretty well and the horses, I hope they finish good. I am happy to be in another U.S. Open Final.” –Adolfo Cambiaso
The consummate sportsman, Travieso team owner Teo Calle described his first U.S. Open experience, “We put a good team together with friends and lot of heart, and wanted to see how far we went. We had a lot of fun, I think we got as far as we could get, our horses were a little tired at the end, but we enjoyed it and we had fun. It is an experience that I wish for everybody, and I hope there will be more people joining and more teams forming. We are a team with passion and heart, and that’s what we want to be known for.”
The U.S. Open Polo Championship Final between Orchard Hill and Valiente will be played Sunday, April 23 at 3:00pm ET at the International Polo Club Palm Beach. The USPA Polo Network will livestream the U.S. Open Polo Championship Final and fans can relive the action on CBS Sports, April 30 at 2:00pm ET.