It was a topsy-turvy ride at the 2017 U.S. Open Polo Championship® as bracket play wrapped up April 12 at the International Polo Club Palm Beach. For the Grand Champions polo organization, it couldn’t have been better. Both of their 26-goal teams won their matches. Marc Ganzi’s team, Audi, clobbered Coca-Cola 14-8, and Melissa Ganzi’s team, Flexjet, edged out Valiente 10-9.
Defending champion Orchard Hill, however, had quite a jolt. The new kids on the block, Travieso, slid past them 9-8. Orchard Hill now finds themselves in the mini quarterfinals with Travieso, Coca-Cola and Audi. A tiebreaker shootout Thursday will determine the pairings.
Travieso Topples Orchard Hill
In the mindbender match of the day, Travieso worked hard to keep Polito Pieres out of the game. Anytime Polito tried to stick handle or turn, Sebastian Merlos or Mariano Gonzalez was there to pressure him. A key factor in beating Orchard Hill is always keeping Facundo Pieres off the line, which Travieso managed to do. With Polito contained, offense was going through Facundo. But he could only do so much, as power-hitter Alfredo Capella put on a show of force, making numerous ride-offs defensively and moving the ball back downfield. He delivered on one of his trademark 120-yard drives.
Travieso took an early lead and kept a stunned Orchard Hill off the scoreboard in the second and third chukkers. The first half closed with Travieso ahead 5-2, the largest gap Orchard Hill has had in the tournament. During halftime a serious powwow undoubtedly down in the tent. Play took a marked twist in the fourth chukker when Facundo Pieres snapped out of it. He began to make space for himself and went on to add five goals in the second half, one of them on a crafty shot in which he snuck he ball under the neck of Capella’s horse.
Things heated up in the final chukker, with a 4-and-a-half-minute stretch of nearly ceaseless running. By then Facundo and Polito were playing like Piereses. Twice in a row Polito passed the ball with a single shot to Facundo, who delivered it between the goalposts with one shot from about 60 yards out. That tightened the gap to 9-8, but time ran out before Orchard Hill could finish off their late-found momentum.
Audi Shakes Up Coca-Cola 14-8
The second game of the day was a battle between what ostensibly were two balanced teams, each with a very capable 2-goaler patron and three sticks of dynamite. For Audi that translated to Marc Ganzi (2), Nic Roldan (8), Alejandro Novillo Astrada (8T) and Magoo Laprida (8). Coca-Cola came toting Gillian Johnston (2), Julian de Lusarreta (7), Julio Arellano (8) and Miguel Novillo Astrada (9).
Audi used Ganzi exceptionally well out front, and he ably converted those chances. Coca-Cola seemed a bit off kilter, with de Lusarreta and Arellano almost a step late to many of he plays. Alejandro Novillo Astrada made the difference for Audi, making 4 goals from the back position. He hit a lot of superb back shots defensively to prevent the Coca-Cola offense from attacking.
Ganzi slammed the door on any chances Coca-Cola had left, snatching a ball on the fly and running it through the posts. That stretched Audi’s advantage to four goals (11-7) in the final moments of the fifth chukker. Audi continued to increase the pressure, racking up three more goals and allowing Coca-Cola only one in the last seconds of the game, ending the match 14-8.
Flexjet Taxis Past Valiente 10-9
Flexjet handed Valiente their first loss of the season in 26-goal games. The contest was somewhat anticlimactic, given that both teams had already qualified for the semifinals on their 2-0 records coming into the game. Accordingly, everyone played conservatively to preserve the horses.
Flexjet seemed more determined than their opponent and had several outstanding plays. Nico Pieres put on some sizzle as he snatched the ball and dribbled it in the air 10 times in a row on the near side. Gonzalito Pieres had a strong game, converting some smooth runs and neck shots. Nico played a strong back position, allowing Gonzalito to go forward.
Another significant factor was the work of Rodrigo Andrade. He worked hard on Adolfo Cambiaso, keeping him out of plays and allowing Gonzalito and Nico Pieres to go head-to-head against Diego Cavanagh and Matias Torres Zavaleta.
Valiente trailed by 3 at the close of the third and fourth chukkers. They caught up in the fifth, making 3 goals between Cambiaso and Cavanagh and holding Flexjet scoreless. With the score tied at 8 at the close of the fifth chukker, it became anyone’s game. Cavanagh contributed a field goal in the sixth, but the Pieres boys finished it off with one goal each to seal a 10-9 win for Flexjet.
The tournament resumes Sunday, April 16 with the mini-quarterfinals at noon and 3 p.m.
All Photography David Lominska (IPC)