Flexjet and U.S. Polo Assn Advance to Semi-Finals
The first quarter-final of the 2018 U.S. Open Polo Championship saw a spectacular overtime game with Flexjet defeating Audi 13-12 at the International Polo Club Palm Beach.
In a hotly anticipated matchup between these two teams, the match did not disappoint as both teams had their opportunities to seal the game, with an impressive comeback from Audi in the final chukka leaving Flexjet fighting for the victory. Nearly indecipherable in stats with Audi and Flexjet shooting 8/16 and 8/14 from the field respectively, the game became a series of runs as Flexjet’s inaccurate shooting early in the game was remedied in the second half, only for Audi to find their offensive game in the final minutes. In a game that could have gone either way, the extra penalty conversion for Nico Pieres in the overtime chukka proved to be the difference.
The opening chukkers saw Audi reign supreme, edging Flexjet throughout the majority of the first half. Showcasing a much more accurate attacking game, Audi was led by Polito Pieres and Nic Roldan, scoring three goals each, while Flexjet struggled to find the mark, converting just one of their seven shot attempts in the opening three chukkas. The relatively fast-paced play, with both teams committing just three fouls each, favoured the Audi team with Roldan and Mike Azzaro stepping up defensively to allow Polito Pieres to display his 10-goal ability offensively. Taking a 6-3 lead into halftime, Audi was in a strong position heading into the second half.
The second half became an entirely different game, with Flexjet finding their rhythm to explode for nine goals in the fourth and fifth chukkas, due to four Audi fouls in the fourth chukka that seemed to slow their momentum. With all four Flexjet players finding the scoresheet over those two chukkas, Audi’s defense struggled to contain their opponents attack, which consequently kept them from scoring themselves as their only offense came via two penalty conversions. What was once a three-goal lead quickly turned into a four-goal deficit with just one chukka remaining. Audi recaptured their strong team effort from the first half to score three goals in quick succession to get them back into the contest. With time expiring, a last second goal from Polito Pieres, his fifth goal of the game, saved Audi from defeat, sending the game into overtime. Audi had two chances early in overtime to win the game but were unable to convert as Flexjet looked to counter-attack. A foul from Audi gave Nico Pieres an opportunity to win the game from the 60-yard line and he converted the penalty to seal the hard-fought win and send Flexjet into the semi-finals.
The second quarter-final saw U.S. Polo Assn complete a hard-fought 9-8 victory over Colorado in another game that came down to the final minutes. Despite shooting just 2 for 7 from the field in the game, U.S. Polo Assn took advantage of Colorado foul trouble to score seven goals from the penalty line with discipline being a big issue for Colorado as 9 of their 12 fouls resulted in goal shot penalty attempts. Colorado will lament their missed opportunities in the game, converting just 2 of 5 penalty attempts and shooting just 40% from the field. In a game that was decided by just one goal, the penalty proficiency of 10-goaler Juan Martin Nero led U.S. Polo Assn to victory.
The first half saw little action where both teams played more defensively, and any attacking plays were unable to get past their opponent’s defence. U.S. Polo Assn came out of the first half strongly with a 5-2 lead, with all four Colorado fouls resulting in penalty goals for Nero, with Grant Ganzi also causing a penalty 1 in the goal mouth. While Colorado looked more dangerous using dominance in set plays and an ability to create attacks during open play, it was their inaccuracy in converting just two of their seven shot attempts that kept them trailing in the game.
The second half provided a more entertaining style of polo right up until the final seconds of the game. Colorado continued to attack goal but U.S. Polo Assn defiantly defended their goal and drew penalty after penalty from the reckless Colorado team. Shooting at goal just once in the fourth and fifth chukkas, U.S. Polo Assn saw their lead disappear as Diego Cavanagh scored two goals early in the second half to help tie the game at 6-6 entering the final chukka. Colorado’s dominance in throw-ins continued to be a factor as they won all four throw-ins in the final chukka but their foul trouble became an issue once again with four fouls resulting in two penalty goals for Nero. In a defensive battle that saw ineffective shooting from both teams, Nero scored three goals in the final chukka, bringing his total to eight in the game to book U.S. Polo Assn’s spot in the semi-finals.