It’s always cause to rejoice when a team wins a high-stakes semi-final, as Alegría did Saturday in the Hurlingham Open. But this time Alegría had to take down one of the top two teams in the world to do it. Their 10-9 overtime victory over La Dolfina yesterday means Alegría will face Ellerstina in the final next Saturday—and there will be no Argentine Triple Crown winner this season.
After a lockstep week of drills, team meetings and film reviews, the squadron in hot pink (or magenta, as their handlers prefer it be called) came out battle-ready. Here’s how Alegría pulled off one of the biggest upset victories in recent memory.
THE CASET-SOLA BOOST
The performance of Sapo Caset, who made the golden goal, was a crucial factor the entire afternoon. As he has done throughout the tournament, Caset provided an offensive spark for Alegría. At the same time Facundo Sola was heavily involved defensively in the game, sacrificing his offense for good defensive positioning and staying aware of La Dolfina's counterattack. Only a few times in the game did Alegría slip out of position. With Sola stepping up his defensive game and being more physical, it provided Alegría with the ability to contain a La Dolfina attack while also being in position to mount a counterattack.
THE FOURTH CHUKKER
Alegría used a dominant fourth chukker (4-1) to get a three-goal lead and hung on until the end. They had been playing well from the start, with Sapo Caset making the opening goal on a nifty run. La Dolfina couldn't seem to break away, which for them is beyond unusual. Their goals were coming from penalties or from distance.
In the fourth Caset converted a penalty, and then Sola immediately scored on the next throw-in with a nice neck shot to get the 3-goal lead. From that point on it appeared that La Dolfina was starting to struggle to score.
THE TYING GOAL (9-9)
In his own defensive half, Sola tried to carry the ball but turned it over to David Stirling. He sent it on a small backhand to Pablo MacDonough, who worked it slowly toward the goal and left the ball behind about 15 yards from goal. As Caset closed in to pick up the ball, Adolfo Cambiaso was riding from behind and forced the foul. Juan Martín Nero converted the penalty 2, with five minutes left in the seventh.
THE OVERTIME GOAL (10-9)
La Dolfina hit a long ball into Alegría’s half. A backhand by Fred Mannix, followed by another backhand from Hilario Ulloa, had the ball placed just over half parallel to the sideboards. Caset jumped onto the line and as he was approaching the ball, MacDonough came over to defend. His horse turned on him and he rode over the ball at an angle, resulting in a foul. Caset converted the penalty 3 on a nice lofted shot.
The biggest takeaway from Alegría’s performance was how physical they were throughout the game and how La Dolfina rarely got behind the last player on defense. The physical style affected the normal La Dolfina passing attack. By keeping La Dolfina in front of them, Alegría could force difficult shots for La Dolfina, who shot just 4/13 in the game.
Being physical on the ball carrier in the middle of the field, even though it resulted in a couple more fouls, made it a stickier game and not as open and free-flowing. Alegría’s biggest challenges came in the sixth and seventh chukkers, with them trying to still be aggressive but protecting against the La Dolfina attack. Alegría didn't score in sixth or seventh and committed six fouls in those two chukkers as Nero and Cambiaso began to come forward more. Overall, however, Alegría managed the La Dolfina attack extremely efficiently.
Another big takeaway from the game was Alegría’s horsepower. For one of the first times for any team this season, it seemed that Alegría had the horsepower to match La Dolfina’s. On La Dolfina passes or attacks, the entire Alegría team seemed to have the horses to keep up with the pace or get back to hit backhands. This proved critical to the win.
- Alegría won throw-ins 20-8 (key to slowing La Dolfina attack by limiting possessions).
- La Dolfina shot 4/13 (31%); Alegría 7/14 (50%).
- Alegría made 16 fouls; La Dolfina 8.
Photos by Katerina Morgan