USPA Gold Cup® Preview: Sunday, March 12
Players to Watch on Opening Day
The 26-goal 2017 USPA Gold Cup® starts Sunday, March 12, with a double-header at IPC. The opening game at noon pits Audi Polo Team against Orchard Hill, followed by the 3 p.m. featured match between Valiente and Coca-Cola on Engel & Völkers field.
With four powerhouse teams on the play list—Coca-Cola, Valiente, Orchard Hill and Audi Polo Team—it is impossible to predict what the numbers on the scoreboard will say. When it comes to the individual players, though, it’s easier to narrow the field to some who are likely to influence play—and to be fascinating to watch. Here’s a look at what the stats say about four key players.
Coca-Cola vs. Valiente
Coca-Cola: Julian de Lusarreta (7 goals)
In place of Coca-Cola’s mainstay, Sugar Erskine (out this season with injury), Julian de Lusarreta has been instrumental in their success. De Lusarreta has led the Coca-Cola team with 29 goals from the field and 64 throw-in wins, ranking him fourth-best in both categories among all players during the 2017 season. Coming off a 2016 season when he won the United States Open Polo Championship® playing for Orchard Hill, de Lusarreta was moved up to a 7 handicap. He has displayed a high level of ability, making him one of the elite players in the game from open play and helping his current team, Coca-Cola, take home the Ylvisaker Cup. A drawback with de Lusarreta is that his no-holds-barred style of play can lead to a higher foul rate (he is currently in the top 10 for fouls committed per game). The introduction of Miguel Novillo Astrada at the back position for the 26-goal series should allow de Lusarreta more freedom to push forward and continue to shoot at goal. He currently has shot at goal 57 times, the second-most among all players.
Valiente: Matias Torres Zavaleta (6 goals)
First, let’s address the obvious: Few have ever outplayed, or ever will, the incomparable Adolfo Cambiaso. Sometimes, though, the stats cast a light on an emerging player who shines through his synergy with Cambiaso and the entire Valiente organization. With Valiente utilizing Cambiaso this season as the quarterback, setting up plays, the emergence of Matias Torres Zavaleta has been critical to Valiente’s success—both in the 26-goal and their victory over Orchard Hill in the C.V. Whitney Cup, in which he had 4 goals in the second half to secure the win. Among all players with at least 10 shots on goal, Zavaleta ranks fifth best in shooting percentage. That is a big advantage for Valiente, knowing they have Zavaleta up front to finish off runs and passes coming from Cambiaso and Diego Cavanagh. Although he hasn’t been taking penalty shots in the 26-goal, Zavaleta did make 8 penalty attempts in the Ylvisaker Cup. He converted all but one of them, further displaying his shooting ability. Zavaleta took on a bigger role in the Ylvisaker Cup, being the second-highest rated player on his team. But he has actually increased his statistical performance from the field, going from 1.5 field goals per game in 20-goal events to 3.0 field goals per game so far in 26-goal play. Valiente becomes very dangerous when you combine elite players like Cambiaso and Cavanagh with a very efficient Zavaleta to pass to up front.
Audi Polo Team vs. Orchard Hill
Audi: Gonzalito Pieres (9 goals)
Making his first appearance in the 2017 season, Gonzalito Pieres at 9 goals is one of the elite players in the game. In the 26-goal events last year (C.V. Whitney Cup, USPA Gold Cup® and United States Open Polo Championship®), Pieres was tied for second-most goals with Facundo Pieres at 71, only trailing leader Hilario Ulloa by one goal for the lead. Gonzalito was a very strong penalty shooter at 69.2% last year, and it resulted in him scoring the most goals from the penalty line at 45. Orchard Hill will need to avoid fouling and putting Pieres on the line, as it was his leading source of goals at 3.5 penalty goals per game. Audi statistically last year was very strong in throw-ins, with Gonzalito in the top 5 for throw-in wins as well. Gonzalito and Facundo Pieres will often be going head-to-head in the throw-in line, as well as throughout the game, and Gonzalito displayed he is more than capable of being the top scorer on the field on any day.
Facundo Pieres (10 goals)
Tied with brother Gonzalito Pieres last season at 71 goals in the 26-goal tournaments, 10-goaler Facundo Pieres has continued that performance into this season. He has gone from 5.9 goals per game last year to currently standing at 6.6 goals per game, the fourth-highest among all players. The slight increase in goals per game can largely be attributed to his elite penalty shooting at 74 percent, making him fourth most accurate among penalty shooters with 10 attempts or more. Facundo has shown his pinpoint penalty shooting ability by shooting 54 percent on penalty 4s, trailing only Mariano Gonzalez. If Audi provides Facundo with opportunities from the penalty line, it could give Orchard Hill the edge for the game, as he makes the second-most goals per game from the penalty line.
All player photos © David Lominska/IPC - Trophy Photo © Diana De Rosa Photography