No matter how things unfurl tomorrow in the 2017 Hurlingham Open final, one thing is certain: Take two fervent teams with a similar three-speed style of play (fast, faster, fastest), and you get a killer game. Here are some nuggets to look forward to.
Reigning champion Ellerstina cruises in with decades of experience and of course, the crushing weight of the Pieres factor. The ability of Facundo Pieres to control the ball and direct the offense from the middle of the field gives Ellerstina a definite edge. But they will have to slam through Alegría’s backline defense. The work of Gonzalito Pieres and Nico Pieres to limit the pressure on Facundo and release downfield (along with Polito Pieres) for their quick passing offense will be crucial.
While protecting against the long pass, Alegría may go for the same aggressive style of on-ball defense that edged La Dolfina out of the running in the semi-final. However, thwarting a full-on Ellerstina attack is no small task. The combination of Facundo and Polito Pieres has been an even more dominant than usual theme this season. It’s been successful and stunning to watch.
Alegría counters with their own power combo, as 10-goalers Hilario Ulloa and Sapo Caset are both equally capable of taking over a game. A quick counter-attack and efficient shooting up front from Caset, Ulloa and Facundo Sola could be the key for Alegría is to pull off back-to-back upsets and win the 2017 Hurlingham Open. Either way, Alegríais going to give Ellerstina all they can handle.
Ellerstina is on full alert after surviving a tough semi-final of their own as they narrowly defeated La Aguada Las Monjitas 12-11. With convincing victories in their first three games that saw them outscore their opponents 51-21, Ellerstina seemed primed for another victory over La Aguada, but found themselves struggling to convert their opportunities, shooting just 31%. Ultimately, a dominant performance from Facundo Pieres late in the game and a key steal from Polito Pieres sent Ellerstina through to the final.
Utilizing a balanced offense, the resurgence of Polito, averaging 5.5 goals per game, has been critical to Ellerstina’s success—particularly when you consider that Facundo and Gonzalito average 5.0 and 3.0 goals per game respectively. Similarly to Alegría, Ellerstina has controlled possession throughout the Hurlingham Open, producing scoring chances far above their opponents. Their ability to convert those chances when it matters most in Saturday’s final will likely be the key to an Ellerstina victory.
Alegría’s overtime victory in the semi-finals was the breakthrough they were looking for to enter the conversation with the two top teams (Ellerstina and La Dolfina). But it hasn’t been an easy run for the players in the magenta jerseys. After dominating their first two games against Chapaleufú and La Irenita, Alegría had to fight through back-to-back overtime games to remain undefeated (as is Ellerstina).
Strong defensively the entire tournament, only conceding 7.5 goals per game, Alegría’s back line of Fred Mannix and Facundo Sola proved crucial in their semi-final victory over La Dolfina. Limiting their opponents to difficult shots from tough angles and from distance, Alegría’s defensive performance alleviated the pressure on their offense, which has struggled with efficiency at times. What Alegría at times lacks in accuracy, they make up by controlling possession and continuing to produce scoring chances. Alegría can score goals in bunches, displayed by their nine-goal outburst in the opening two chukkers against La Irenita.
With Ulloa directing the play in the middle of the field, Caset has been an offensive force both from the field and the penalty line. In Saturday’s final, Alegría is going to need a similar six-goal performance from Caset, like the one he racked against La Dolfina. At the same time they’ll have to continue to play the steady team defense that was the key to Alegría’s undefeated run through the Hurlingham Open.
Photos by Katerina Morgan