In the second of two USPA Gold Cup® semifinals March 22 at International Polo Club Palm Beach, Valiente took Audi down 12-8 and earned a place in next Sunday’s final.
Audi's strategy was obvious from the get-go: to swarm Adolfo Cambiaso and not let him be the one who beat them. While effective at face value, that approach underestimated Diego Cavanagh. It left him free to attack—which, as he demonstrated, he is more than capable of doing if given some space. In a stunning performance, Cavanagh contributed all but one of his team’s total 12 goals. The other came courtesy of the man Audi tried so hard to neutralize: Cambiaso.
Cambiaso may not have been the one with the highest numbers beside his name on the score sheet, but he orchestrated a major share of them. With Audi focused on neutralizing him, Cambiaso turned it to Valiente’s advantage. He came forward more often than he has been doing in recent games, which allowed Cavanagh and Matias Torres Zavaleta to generate their attacks from the back. (That’s what makes Valiente so tough to play against: If you crowd Cambiaso, then Cavanagh and Zavaleta will attack; if you sit back, Cambiaso manages play and passes to open teammates.)
Audi never dialed down their determination. But that earned them two yellow cards and got them into foul trouble, repeatedly putting Cavanagh on the line. Cavanagh found his groove being increasingly involved in the game and penalty line, creating an effective counter to Audi's defense. Cavanagh outperformed himself with 11 goals on the day, a full 6 goals over his season goals-per-game average.
After a tense stretch with the game tied at 3 at the end of the second chukker and 5 in the third, Cavanagh broke through with 7 seconds left in the first half to bring Valiente ahead 6-5.
“It was a very important game for us. We started a bit anxious and made a few mistakes that cost us some goals,” said Cavanagh. “Luckily after halftime we came back stronger and had a great fourth chukker.”
Action slowed dramatically in a whistle-peppered second half. 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 to Pieres’ 1. A cascade of fouls late in the game kept Audi from breaking away to meld multiple runs into goals. Valiente maintained their lead and took the 12-8 victory.