Valiente—a team that has won just about every major U.S. polo tournament over the years—added the Ylvisaker Cup to the list with an 8-6 victory over GSA in Sunday’s final at International Polo Club Palm Beach.
It took a lot more to get there than the scoreboard made it appear, but that didn’t come as a complete surprise to Valiente. They came into the game keenly aware of newcomer GSA’s penchant for tight margins. But after an initial washout to Tonkawa (12-7 loss), GSA won or lost every other game, including their previous matchup with Valiente, by a single goal.
By midgame in the final things were starting to look uncomfortably déjà vu, with GSA ahead by one (4-3). During halftime a swath of intellectual angst pervaded the Valiente tent, where the team was trying to sort things out. Bob Jornayvaz, Santi Torres and Bautista Panelo wore the expression of a “Jeopardy” contestant just before the music is about to stop. Captain Adolfo Cambiaso leaned on a tent post and looked down, his stare intense enough to drill holes in the ground. He would have to use his strongest muscle—his brain—to stop GSA.
“Honestly [GSA] was playing a good game, and we weren’t. We couldn’t find our system,” said Cambiaso.
But Valiente knew what the problem was, said Jornayvaz. “We were losing because they weren’t releasing the ball. At halftime we totally changed our strategy. We decided to mix up our positions on the throw-ins and knock-ins. In the first half Panelo and Torres were up front in the knock-ins. “In the second half we put Adolfo and Bauti there, and that made [GSA] hit,” said Jornayvaz, who moved from position one to two on the throw-ins.
From there on it was just a matter of getting the ball to Cambiaso (isn’t it always?) and shielding him from GSA’s escalating attacks. Several times Matias Magrini slammed Jornayvaz like a sledgehammer. “He hit me hard, but he never got to Adolfo,” he said.
Still, you have to give GSA their due for making it to the final. They are newcomers to the Florida high-goal season. Two of their players are young (Henry Porter and Dylan Rossiter) and the other two seasoned.
GSA thrives when they use their balanced offense, and all four players were involved throughout the game. In open play Magrini and Mariano Gonzalez managed the game well for GSA, working in sync with the ball. But the final result came down to their inability to get around the Valiente blocks to pressure Cambiaso. He had the time and space to set up his team’s attack because of the work of Jornayvaz, Panelo and Torres off the ball. Torres’ effectiveness at protecting defensively when Cambiaso attacked was noticeable on their set plays and on their interceptions.
A flustered GSA started fouling more often in the second half, racking up nine fouls on the day compared to Valiente’s one. Valiente’s calculated effort kept GSA’s Mariano Gonzalez off the penalty line, which was absolutely key to the win. Although Valiente missed all four of their penalty shots in the first half, in the second half Cambiaso went a flawless 3-for-3 from the line. That turned Valiente’s one-goal deficit at the half into a two-goal advantage by the end of the fifth chukker (7-5).
At every opportunity Cambiaso performed one of his best magic tricks, opening the field like Moses parting the Red Sea and bolting between the banks toward goal. GSA reacted by chasing him (which is almost always a losing proposition) or making desperate moves that resulted in fouls and allowed Valiente extra goals in the second half.
Cambiaso finished the day with six goals and the MVP award. His overall assessment: “In all honesty, we didn’t play very well. That was the bad part. The good part is that we won.”
- Valiente shot 5-for-16 (31%), GSA 6-for-13 (46%)
- Total fouls: GSA 9, Valiente 1
- GSA won throw-ins 13-5 but couldn’t turn them into goals at a high rate
- High-scorer and MVP: Adolfo Cambiaso 6 goals (no other player in the final had more than 2)
- Goals per game: 10.4 (5th)
- Shots per game: 14.8 (2nd)
- Fouls per game: 4.0 (1st)
Cover Photo by Liz Lamont Images
All other photos by David Lominska