Tomorrow’s opening day of the 2018 C.V. Whitney Cup at International Polo Club will unveil the combination of the two top players in the world, Adolfo Cambiaso and Facundo Pieres, on one team. How will “Cambieres,” so to speak, perform for Valiente?
It’s hard to tell, even for them, as they’ve had time for only two practice games together: last Friday and yesterday. “We’ll have to see. We’re still trying to figure out which positions we’re going to play,” said Cambiaso after the second practice.
Considering their longstanding rivalry in the Argentine Open final, he and Pieres are the last two you’d ever have imagined as teammates. They know one another through the sport but have said they don’t consider themselves friends, at least not in the traditional sense. They don’t hang out together socially or in any realm unrelated to polo. Most of their interactions have been on the field and now in the Valiente barn.
They were there together in the mate semi-circle last night after practice, but each sat at the opposite end, carrying on individual conversations with family members and friends. Don’t read anything into the physical distance between them. The scene wasn’t at all contentious; in fact it was light and jovial. They had just come in from practice and were together for one simple reason: They have a mutual job to do.
Did Pieres find any surprises playing on the same side of the field as Cambiaso? With an amused expression he replied, “No, no surprises. I know how he plays,” winking as though he was revealing a secret. (Contrary to popular belief, this isn’t the first time they have been teammates. Pieres and Cambiaso played for Argentina in the 2009 and 2014 Coronation Cups.)
To watch them ride onto the field four days ago for their first practice at Valiente, you’d have thought they were pals. With their horses walking side-by-side, the two players carried their mallets identically at the resting position. They smiled, appearing to exchange pleasantries. Then it was down to business.
Valiente manager Robertito Zedda had handpicked four opponents whose team handicap exceeded Valiente’s 25. Among them was 6-goaler Pablo Spinacci, Cambiaso’s horse manager. Spinacci had experience playing against Pieres and Cambiaso individually, but this, he said, was incomparable. “It was like, like . . . like nothing else! There are no words to describe what it’s like to be on the field with both of them.”
Bob Jornaynaz found some words. “It was magical!” he said after the first practice. “That one practice game made the whole season worth it. Those two looked like they had been playing together their whole lives. They play with the same innate polo instinct, professionalism, speed and thoughtfulness.”
How is the arrangement going to work out, as both have long captained their own teams and Cambiaso has called the shots for Valiente since 2012? “This is going to be way, way beyond the concept of captain,” said teammate Rob Jornayvaz, laughing and reaching as high as he could above his head.
Pieres clearly has no problem deferring to Cambiaso. “It’s going to be fun, and I’m looking forward to learning a lot from Adolfo,” he said. “Things are going great, but practice is always different from playing a game.”
Asked how he thought it would feel with Pieres in tomorrow’s game, Cambiaso shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know. I have played with other 10-goal players—Pablo [MacDonough], Juanma [Nero]—they’re all really amazing players. That makes it easy to adapt [to Pieres]. Tommy [Beresford], Bob [Jornayvaz], we are all learning to adapt to each other.”
Cambiaso said he and Pieres are “still trying to find a system that makes us play a bit better every day. We need more time but the tournament starts tomorrow, so we’ll see what happens.”
Cabiaso and Pieres recently finished play in the Ylvisaker Cup. Here's a look at their stats so far this season: