No one thinks of Charles Dickens as a sportswriter, but his famous opening to “A Tale of Two Cities” perfectly summed up yesterday’s U.S. Open semifinals:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . . it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”
You get the picture.
The first half of each stanza applied to Daily Racing Form and Valiente, who clobbered their opponents so badly in the first half that there wasn’t a prayer of a turnaround. Valiente held Flexjet to only two goals all the way through the first three chukkers, which ended 10-2 in their favor. Daily Racing Form kept U.S. Polo Assn. off the scoreboard (except for a penalty 1) for the first half and held an 8-1 advantage going into the fourth chukker.
That’s not to say that U.S. Polo Assn. and Flexjet didn’t keep trying and trying and trying. But come on, how many teams have you seen overcome a seven- or eight-goal deficit at the half? Besides, Flexjet was up against the “Cambieres” death star (Adolfo Cambiaso and Facundo Pieres), and U.S. Polo Assn. had to contend with DRF’s Hilario Ulloa on horsepower that won his ponies the IPC Best String award.
Flexjet tumbled to Valiente 17-9, while U.S. Polo Assn. managed to muster an eleventh-hour rally. Although U.S. Polo Assn.’s push wasn’t successful, the final numbers on the scoreboard (11-8) made their loss look less bruising than it actually was. Had it not been for Juan Martín Nero, who made four penalty goals, and Alejandro Novillo Astrada (two field goals), all in the second half, the final gap between U.S. Polo Assn. and DRF would likely have been as jaw dropping as was the Flexjet/Valiente fiasco.
DAILY RACING FORM v. U.S. POLO ASSN.
U.S. Polo Assn. couldn’t get past the DRF defense, who quickly used the turnovers to mount their own attack. Led by Ulloa's five first-half goals, DRF was electric, with foul trouble their only detriment. They committed 10 first-half fouls, although the majority were penalty 5s that U.S. Polo Assn. didn’t use effectively. Leading 6-0 after the opening two chukkers, the relentless attack of DRF (with the Obregons working hard in the front and Jared Zenni/Ulloa driving through) left U.S. Polo Assn. constantly on the defensive and rarely able to generate consistent possession in the attacking half.
Starting the second half, U.S. Polo Assn. still couldn’t score from the field, but they received some momentum off DRF fouls. (Fouls have been a constant issue in the U.S. Open for DRF. They have averaged 15 fouls per game—something they cannot afford to do against Valiente in the final.) U.S. Polo Assn. stepped up their defense to hold DRF to just one shot attempt in the fourth chukker. But any time U.S. Polo Assn. put together some scoring, DRF responded, primarily from Hilario Ulloa who had a strong game from the field, converting four of his six shots. Cleaning up their fouls in the final two chukkers and playing a protective style of defense due to their large lead kept DRF ahead for the whole 42 minutes.
VALIENTE v. FLEXJET
First half saw the prowess of Adolfo and Facundo as they scored a few quick goals by hitting backhands into open space and running onto the ball unmarked for a breakaway. Multiple times in the game the Flexjet defense was left chasing when Valiente broke away into space. The combination of Valiente being given time and space, along with foul trouble from Flexjet, created a disastrous outcome. Perfect 4/4 shooting from the penalty line from Facundo Pieres, along with 6/9 shooting from the field as a team in the opening half, left Flexjet with very little possession to stay within reach.
Holding an eight-goal lead at half time, some teams may get complacent, but Valiente kept attacking. Flexjet missed their first three shots in the second half yet generated a more organized offense that resulted in four Valiente fouls. Cambiaso and Facundo Pieres were too often left unmarked, resulting in open runs to goal.
The game blew open in the fifth chukker as Valiente scored five goals. The disorganization of the Flexjet defense left them a step behind and constantly chasing, something you cannot do against Cambiaso and Pieres. An 11-goal performance from Pieres and perfect 4/4 shooting from Cambiaso illustrated the dominance of Valiente throughout the season. With an 11-goal lead heading into the final chukker, the rest of the game was just a formality, as Valiente elected to preserve their horses rather than defend.
KEY TOURNAMENT STATS (FINALISTS)
DAILY RACING FORM
Hilario Ulloa: 20 goals and 6.7 goals per game (1st place)
Hilario Ulloa: 19 throw-in wins (3rd)
Mariano Obregon: 12 goals (tied 8th)
Facundo Pieres: 19 goals and 6.3 goals per game (2nd)
Adolfo Cambiaso: 13 goals (tied 6th) and 4.3 goals per game (tied 5th)
Facundo: 27 shots (1st); Adolfo: 16 shots (tied 4th)
KEY PLAYER STATS (SEMIFINALS)
DAILY RACING FORM
Hilario Ulloa: 1/1 on penalties, 4/6 shooting from the field
Jared Zenni: 3/3 shooting from the field
Mariano Obregon: 2/2 shooting from the field
Ulloa leads game with 7 throw-in wins
US POLO ASSN.
Juan Martín Nero: 4/7 on penalty attempts
Nero held to zero field shots in the game
Alejandro Novillo Astrada receives penalty 1 and shoots 2/4 from the field
Facundo: 11 goals (6/6 on penalties, 5/10 from the field)
Adolfo: Perfect 4/4 from the field
Tommy Beresford: Perfect 2/2 from the field
Adolfo: 8 throw-in wins
Nico Pieres: 8 throw-in wins
Nico and Gonzalito Pieres combine for 1-for-8 shooting from the field
Article by Darlene Ricker
Photography by Liz Lamont Images