Wellington, FL – March 17, 2021 – The 2021 USPA Gold Cup® continued at the International Polo Club Palm Beach on Wednesday with a Bracket II play-off game between Pilot and Santa Clara, with the winner advancing to the third round. In a thrilling match, overtime was needed to determine the winner, and it was ultimately decided on a Penalty 2 for Gonzalito Pieres as he converted the opportunity, sending Pilot into the next round with the 12-11 victory.
Without their 10-goaler Facundo Pieres for the third consecutive game, Pilot ran into a balanced Santa Clara team that had all four of their players score at least two goals, but received another strong performance from Gonzalito Pieres, who finished with a game-high nine goals. Tied at five different moments in the game, the outcome could have gone either way with Santa Clara producing fewer chances at goal but shooting a very efficient 70% from the field. Decided by the smallest of margins, the 5 for 6 penalty shooting of Pieres, including the overtime Penalty 2 conversion, gave Pilot the narrow victory.
The evenly-matched contest was seen from the opening throw-in as Pilot and Santa Clara battled throughout the first chukker. With neither team able to score from the field, it was Pieres who gave Pilot a slim 1-0 lead on a Penalty 4 conversion, the only offense through the first seven minutes. Continuing to step up in the absence of brother Facundo, Gonzalito Pieres doubled Pilot’s lead to two, but foul trouble in the second chukker allowed Santa Clara to pull even, adding two penalty goals from Felipe Vercellino, along with a field goal from Luis Escobar to tie the game at 3-3. A game of contrasting playing styles saw Pilot continue to work tirelessly off the ball to free up space for Pieres, while Santa Clara used all four players. The result was the same as the teams remained deadlocked at 5-all entering the second half.
It was a well-matched game, with the scores ties at five different occasions. ©Alex Pacheco
Fighting some foul trouble of their own, Santa Clara conceded three penalties over the fourth and fifth chukkers, but matched Pilot stride-for-stride thanks to accurate shooting from the field. Scoring on five of their first six shot attempts of the second half, two each from Escobar and Will Johnston, Santa Clara continued to produce from the field, carrying some momentum into the final stages of the game against a Pilot team that had received seven goals from Gonzalito Pieres through five chukkers. Pilot dealt the first blow in the sixth chukker as Pieres scored from the field, but Santa Clara provided a response from the penalty line, where Vercellino converted a safety to tie the game for a fifth time. With time running down, Pieres broke free for a breakaway, but the head of his mallet broke to end his run.
Time expired to send the game into overtime, with both teams battling to advance in the tournament. Shortly into overtime, a turnover allowed Lucas James to jump on the loose ball and catch Santa Clara for a foul in front of goal, resulting in a Penalty 2 attempt for Pieres. Placing the ball through the goal posts, Pieres’ ninth goal was the difference in the exciting 12-11 victory for Pilot.
Pilot will advance to the third round of the 2021 USPA Gold Cup® thanks to their win. ©Alex Pacheco
Polo matches at IPC are not open to the general public except for ticketed Sunday brunch. Online viewing is available with a subscription at globalpolo.com.