By Alex Webbe
Valiente (Bob Jornayvaz, Alejo Taranco, Guillermo Terrera and Adolfo Cambiaso) beat Orchard Hill (Steve Van Andel, Gallego Ferrario, Polito Pieres and Facundo Pieres) 11-9 Sunday afternoon in the 2015 United States Open championship game at the International Polo Club before a record crowd in the final match of the season.
Valiente was making their third straight US Open final appearance, having lost to Zacara (Mike Azzaro, Facundo Pieres, Magoo Laprida and Lyndon Lea) in 2013 and Alegría (Julian Mannix, Hilario Ulloa, Mariano Aguerre and Clemente Zavaleta, Jr.) in 2014. They struggled through the 26-goal season with a 6-6 record before battling their way into the 2015 US Open final.
Valiente was facing an Orchard Hill team that had run up an impressive 13-2 record while Valiente’s season record going in to the day’s US Open final was a mediocre 6-6. Forty-year-old Cambiaso had been playing hurt and had amassed a total of only 27 goals over the course of the three 26 goal tournaments.
Orchard Hill has won the C. V. Whitney Cup, the opening 26-goal tournament without a loss, and recorded four more wins in the second 26-goal tournament of the season, the USPA Piaget Gold Cup before suffering their first loss of the year to Audi in the final. Orchard Hill boasted the talents of 10-goaler Facundo Pieres, the number two ranked player in the world (behind Adolfo Cambiaso) and his cousin, 9-goaler Polito Pieres (rated at 10-goals in Argentina). Facundo Pieres had led the scoring in the C. V. Whitney Cup, the USPA Piaget gold cup and the United States Open, coming into the game, and won’t turn 29 until May. Clearly the favorite, but if players around the world have learned anything about the game of polo, they’ve learned to NEVER count Cambiaso out.
Orchard Hill showed their fangs early with Facundo Pieres scoring the opening goal of the game in the first 30 seconds of play, 1-0. Alejo Taranco took advantage of a Valiente foul by converting a 40-yard penalty shot to tie the game at 1-1 at the 6:10 mark. Facundo Pieres responded with a 40-yard penalty conversion of his own to make it 2-1, and Polito Peres scored the final goal of the chukker with just 37 seconds on the clock. At the end of the first period of play, Orchard Hill led by two goals, 3-1.
Both defenses tightened up in the second period with Orchard Hill pressing the attack. On three separate occasions a Valiente defender knocked the ball over their own end line resulting in a Safety (a 60-yard penalty award), and on three occasions, Orchard Hill missed. A Valiente foul resulted in a Penalty 4, and another 60-yard penalty attempt that Orchard Hill pushed wide. An Orchard Hill foul sent Taranco to the penalty line where he converted from the 30-yard line for the only score of the chukker, cutting the Orchard Hill lead to a single goal, 3-2.
Facundo Pieres converted from 60-yards out to open the third period, 4-2, but an Orchard Hill foul in their own goal mouth resulted in a Penalty 1, awarding Valiente with a goal. Taranco added a 30-yard penalty conversion less than a minute later to tie it at 4-4. Facundo Pieres followed up a run by Polito Pieres and drove the ball through the goalposts to end the first half with Orchard Hill in front, 5-4.
Cambiaso took the field in the fourth chukker with a racehorse, tying the game with the first of his three goals in the opening two minutes of action, 5-5, and the last with 1:36 on the clock. Complimented by shutout defense, Cambiaso lifted Valiente to their first lead of the game, 6-5, and padded it with the final goal of the chukker, 7-5.
Polito Pieres took advantage of Cambiaso leaving the field to change mounts as he raced down the field for a goal at 4:23 of the fifth chukker. Facundo Pieres tied the game at 7-7 on a 40-yard penalty shot at the 2:43 mark, and Polito Pieres put Orchard Hill back on top, 8-7 to end the chukker.
After nearly three scoreless minutes of the sixth chukker, Facundo Pieres rocketed the ball through the Valiente goalposts from over 130 yards out to give Orchard Hill a two goals lead, 9-7. With two minutes and nine seconds left in the period, Orchard Hill committed a foul in their own goal mouth, resulting in a Penalty 1 and the awarding of a goal to Valiente and a throw-in 10-yards in front of their goal. Valiente took control of the throw-in and Guillermo Terrera scored the tying goal with 2:02 on the clock. Another Orchard Hill foul resulted in a 30-yard penalty shot that Taranco converted to put Valiente in front, 10-9, with one minute left in the chukker. Cambiaso put an exclamation mark on the end of the game as he scored for the 11-9 victory.
Cambiaso and Taranco scored four goals apiece (all four of Taranco’s goals came on penalty conversions). Terrera scored once and Valiente received two goals on a pair of Penalty 1s. Facundo Pieres scored four of his game high six goals on penalty shots. Polito Pieres added three goals in a losing effort. Taranco was honored as MVP while Cambiaso’s 7-year-old mare, Romana, was named Best Playing Pony. Cambiaso player her in the fourth chukker, scoring three goals and boosting Valiente into a 7-5 lead.