The first 2017 USPA Gold Cup® semifinal March 22 at the International Polo Club Palm Beach was decided the way several games this season have been—on a penalty shot in overtime. Coca-Cola defeated Orchard Hill 11-10 Wednesday and earned a spot against Valiente in the March 26 tournament final.
Orchard Hill utilized Steve Van Andel as a back, with the patron often staying 20 yards away on throw-ins to protect against Coca-Cola (specifically, patrona Gillian Johnston) getting a breakaway. That positioning was effective. It neutralized Johnston, making Van Andel’s mission key in allowing Facundo Pieres and Polito Pieres to play their two-man game. Polito had a good bounce-back game after going scoreless against Valiente in a previous game.
Coca-Cola benefited by playing a squeaky-clean game, fouling just 4 times the entire day. They knew as well as anyone that keeping Facundo off the penalty line is critical if you want to beat Orchard Hill. Coca-Cola’s triumvirate—Julian de Lusarreta, Miguel Novillo Astrada and Julio Arellano—were all effective at different times, which is what makes this team so hard to play against. Having three players with over 7-goal handicaps who rotate from back to forward so seamlessly means that one of them is usually open for a pass.
Surprisingly, the game got off to a slow start with a scoreless first chukker. Orchard Hill inched ahead methodically, moving into a 6-3 lead at halftime. Coca-Cola kept Orchard Hill off the board in the fourth chukker, wisely focusing on containing Facundo Pieres, who is the leading scorer to date in the 26-goal tournament series.
Down three goals early in the sixth chukker (7-10), Coca-Cola fought their way back, leveling the score at 10 and sending the game into overtime. Arellano and de Lusarreta copiloted the ball and got it within a breath of the goal line, but Jota Chavanne swooped in for the save. A few plays later a penalty 4 was called in favor of Coca-Cola. Orchard Hill raised a challenge but lost, essentially sealing their fate. Arellano’s crisp shot from the 60-yard line looked sure to go in, but at the last second the ball was deflected along the ground. Fortunately for Coca-Cola, de Lusarreta was perfectly positioned to tap it in for the win.