Coca-Cola and Valiente on Fast Track to Gold Cup Final
Valiente and Coca-Cola are headed for a Sunday showdown March 26 in the 2017 USPA Gold Cup® final. Both semifinal games in the tournament took place Wednesday at the International Polo Club Palm Beach (IPC), culminating in an 11-10 overtime win for Coca-Cola over Orchard Hill and a 12-8 victory for Valiente over Audi.
The first semifinal match rolled out as an open, fast-paced game between Coca-Cola and Orchard Hill, with only 14 total fouls and a combined 6 penalty attempts the entire game.
Only converting shots from the field at a rate of 28% in their first two games of the Gold Cup, Orchard Hill struggled again in the first chukker Wednesday. They controlled play throughout with Facundo Pieres and Polito Pieres playing a strong two-man game. But Orchard Hill only managed to convert 1 of 4 shot attempts, on par with their shooting performance in bracket play. After a scoreless first chukker, Coca-Cola’s Julian de Lusarreta provided offense for his team, scoring two goals from the field, while Miguel Novillo Astrada added a goal in the third.
The real story of the game was the ability of both team to avoid fouling—a key factor, as both Julio Arellano (Coca-Cola) and Facundo Pieres (Orchard Hill) are super-strong penalty shooters. Arellano had no penalty attempts in the first half while Pieres had only one, which he converted. That was an extremely beneficial stat for Coca-Cola in their efforts to contain Facundo Pieres, the leading scorer this season in 26-goal competition.
Keeping Facundo off the penalty line began to pay off as Coca-Cola won the third chukker 3-0 to tie the game at 6. Orchard Hill bounced back in the fifth chukker, regaining a 2-goal lead behind the efforts of Polito Pieres, who scored his third and fourth goals of the game. It was a strong bounce-back game for Polito, who was held scoreless in Orchard Hill’s last game against Valiente.
Down three goals early in the 6th chukker, Coca-Cola made a late push. They won 3 of 4 throw-ins to keep possession and converted all 3 shot attempts (one each from Arellano, de Lusarreta and Novillo Astrada) to even the score at 10-10 and send the game to overtime.
An Orchard Hill foul put Arellano on the 60-yard line. A deflected ball on the shot went directly to de Lusarreta, who capitalized on it with lightning-fast reflexes. He hit a backhand through the goal for his fifth goal of the game, sending to send Coca-Cola team to the Gold Cup final in a tense 11-10 victory.
Valiente Takes Audi on a Ride, 12-8Gonzalito Pieres - Diego Cavanagh
Undefeated Valiente did it again, besting Audi, who had yet to notch a win in the tournament.
Audi seemed determined early on to make things as difficult as possible for Adolfo Cambiaso. That effort continued throughout the game, with Audi applying intense pressure any time he was near the ball. Gonzalito Pieres broke free for a goal from the field and contributed a penalty 2 goal to give Audi an early 1-goal lead. The back-and-forth game continued with Audi getting slightly more scoring chances. They shot at goal 3 times in the second chukker, compared to Valiente’s single shot. Still, each team put 1 shot through the goalposts to keep it a very close game.
Matias Torres Zavaleta has consistently provided the spark for a Valiente team that has yet to lose in 26-goal play. But this day belonged to 8-goaler Diego Cavanagh, who was doing it all for Valiente. Meanwhile Audi focused heavily on Cambiaso, often sending two players his way. Consequently Cavanagh was given a bit more space—and he took full advantage, finishing off a run for a goal to end the first half with a 6-5 advantage. That gave Cavanagh his fifth goal of the game, but he didn’t stop there. Cavanagh ended up making all but one of Valiente’s total 12 goals on the day, with the other courtesy of Cambiaso.
Action in the second half slowed dramatically. The teams committed a combined 21 fouls in the final three chukkers, providing Cavanagh with 4 penalty attempts and Gonzalito Pieres with 3. Cavanagh converted all 4, while Pieres only managed to convert 1. Valiente stretched their lead behind Cavanagh’s impressive 11 goals for the game, a full 6 goals over his season goals-per-game average. With the high number of fouls late in the game, Audi had difficulty breaking away and stringing together multiple runs for goals. Valiente held on to their lead and finished off a 12-8 victory over Audi to set up a final against Coca-Cola.
All games in the USPA Gold Cup® are being live streamed on the USPA Polo Network: uspolo.org.Game report, stats and photographs provided by International Polo Club Palm Beach.