Flexjet Hands Valiente First Loss in 26-Goal Season
Wednesday saw a series of surprises on the final day of bracket play in the 2017 U.S. Open Polo Championship® at the International Polo Club Palm Beach.
The first game of the day pitted the two remaining undefeated teams against each other to determine the #1 seed heading into the mini quarterfinals. Valiente usually starts strong, but it was Flexjet who held Valiente scoreless in the first chukker. Gonzalito Pieres scored a goal from the penalty line and another from the field to give Flexjet an early 2-0 lead. Flexjet took advantage of 4 Valiente fouls in the first chukker to control possession and not allow Matias Torres Zavaleta and Diego Cavanagh to break away as they have done in previous games. Valiente bounced back in the second chukker with 3 goals, one each from Adolfo Cambiaso, Cavanagh and Zavaleta. But the combination of Rodrigo Andrade, Gonzalito Pieres and Nico Pieres matched up very well against the usually dominant Valiente team. Andrade worked hard throughout the game on Cambiaso, limiting his time on the ball and more than once taking him out of the play to help the Flexjet defense. Nico Pieres had a big impact on the game defensively, pressuring Zavaleta and Cavanagh in the middle of the field, which allowed Gonzalito the freedom to attack downfield.
Foul trouble hurt Valiente early as Gonzalito Pieres was taking advantage of the penalty opportunities, converting all 3 chances he had in the first half. Meanwhile, Flexjet was preventing Cavanagh from getting to the penalty line, only giving him one penalty 4 chance in the first half—a major factor when you are trying to beat a tough Valiente team. Flexjet took a 7-4 lead into halftime and maintained it through the fourth chukker as both teams scored one penalty goal each.
Valiente wasn’t going to go quietly. They made a push in the fifth chukker, led by Cambiaso causing two turnovers in front of the Flexjet goal and converting both chances. Cavanagh took advantage of 4 Flexjet fouls to convert 1 of 2 penalty chances to tie the game at 8. However, Flexjet’s Gonzalito Pieres was at the top of his game and put his team on his back, scoring another goal from the penalty line. He ran in a throw-in with time running down to score his seventh goal of the game and lead Flexjet to the 10-9 victory. That handed Valiente their first loss in a 26-goal game this season, as well as securing the 1st seed in the semifinals.
Audi Takes Down Coca-Cola 14-8Julian de Lusarreta and Alejandro Novillo AstradaThroughout the U.S. Open, Audi has had their fair share of chances, shooting at goal often but having a shot conversion rate below 50%, which contributed to losses in their opening two games. It was a different story against Coca-Cola though as Audi shot at goal 21 times in the game, putting more through the goal than they missed to put pressure on Coca-Cola to respond. Coca-Cola seemed to be clicking early with the combination of Miguel Novillo Astrada and Julio Arellano providing the offense through the first two chukkers. Astrada converted his first two shots for field goals, while Arellano added one from the field and converted both penalty attempts in the second chukker to extend Coca-Cola’s lead to 5-2.
Audi seemed to recognize they couldn’t keep giving Arellano penalty opportunities and didn’t provide him with a single penalty shot the remainder of the game. In a very open, fast-paced game the rest of the way, Audi would control open play. They converted 10 of their last 16 shots led by Marc Ganzi, who came on strong in the third chukker and finished with 4 goals on the day. Alejandro Novillo Astrada also contributed 4 goals for Audi, all from the field. Audi used strong passing and quick transitions from defense to offense to beat a tough Coca-Cola team 14-8, bringing both teams to 1-2 in a critical game that impacted the standings ahead of the quarterfinals.
Travieso Slips Past Orchard Hill 9-8Sebastian Merlos
The final game of the day saw Orchard Hill face off against a Travieso team that hadn’t quite hit their stride yet as a new team. However, after two games Travieso seemed to be working better as a team early on as they dominated open play in the first half, shooting at goal 11 times to Orchard Hill’s 3 shot attempts. Travieso was only able to put 3 of those 11 shots through the goal with Sebastian Merlos scoring two, and Mariano Gonzalez adding one. Gonzalez converted both his penalty attempts to bring his season percentage over 75% as Travieso took advantage of the few Orchard Hill fouls throughout the game. Facundo Pieres led the way for Orchard Hill but couldn’t convert any of his penalty 4 attempts, a rare outcome for the season-leading 80% penalty shooter. Travieso held Orchard Hill scoreless in the second and third chukkers to take a 5-2 lead into halftime, with Merlos pushing the team forward and Alfredo Capella playing extremely strong in the back, consistently picking up the ball and moving it back downfield.
Orchard Hill began their comeback led by Facundo Pieres scoring his second and third goals of the game, with Juan Chavanne finishing off a slick pass for his first goal of the game. Just as Flexjet beat Valiente by keeping Cavanagh off the line, Travieso avoided fouling and only provided Facundo Pieres with 3 penalty attempts for the whole game—a key factor if a team wants to beat Orchard Hill. The combination of Merlos and Gonzalez, who together made 15 shots at goal and 7 goals from the field as, propelled Travieso to extend their lead after the fifth chukker to 9-6. Facundo Pieres tried his best to get Orchard Hill back in the game, scoring back-to-back goals to get his team within 1. But Travieso continued to play a strong game, constantly pressuring Polito Pieres on the ball throughout the second half and never quite letting him break away for any individual runs.
Travieso held on for the 9-8 victory. That set up a four-way tie for third place in the standings, with all four teams having a 1-2 record, which will be resolved by a penalty shootout.
The tournament continues Sunday, April 16 with the mini-quarterfinals at noon and 3 p.m.
All games in the U.S. Open are being live streamed by the USPA Polo Network: uspolo.org.Game report, stats and photographs provided by International Polo Club Palm Beach.