Valiente (Bob Jornayvaz, Matias Torres Zavaleta, Diego Cavanagh and Adolfo Cambiaso) capped an impressive 26-goal season at the International Polo club Sunday afternoon with an exciting 13-12 overtime win over the defending championship Orchard Hill lineup (Polito Pieres, Juan Chavanne, Facundo Pieres and Steve Van Andel).
The victory gave Valiente a sweep of the high-goal season with wins in the C. V. Whitney Cup, the USPA Gold Cup and the United States Open Championship and allowing it to become only the second team to capture the American Triple Crown of polo, wins in all three of the country’s top tournaments in the same calendar year. The only other team to accomplish the feat was the 2010 Crab Orchard team (Julio Arellano, Hilario Ulloa, Adolfo Cambiaso and George Rawlings), with Cambiaso appearing on both rosters.
Rains had forced the postponement of the final of the 2017 US Open final until Tuesday afternoon with a surprisingly strong and enthusiastic crowd on hand for the weekday event, and Orchard Hill wasted little time in getting started. Orchard Hill 10-goaler Polito Pieres jumped all over the opening throw-in as he raced down the field with the ball. A pass to teammate Facundo Pieres saw a shot on goal ricochet off the left goalpost for the opening goal of the game with just 22 seconds off the clock, 1-0 lead. A fast-pace and close checking dominated the balance of the chukker with Diego Cavanagh tying the game at the 5:23 mark with a 30-yard penalty shot. Facundo Pieres and Cavanagh traded 60-yard penalty conversions to close out the opening period of play in a 2-2 tie.
The clip of the game intensified in second chukker action. Polito Pieres opened the scoring at 5:51, 3-2, followed by back-to-back goals from Cavanagh, 4-3. A final goal from Facundo Pieres came with just 1:41 left in the period and had both teams leaving the field in a 4-4 deadlock.
An energized Orchard Hill team took control of the opening minutes of the third period as they rang up four consecutive goals in the first four minutes of play. Explosive play by Polito Pieres gave Orchard Hill a 5-4 lead with the first goal of the chukker followed by a goal from Facundo Pieres less than a minute later. Polito Pieres added two more goals at 4:09 and 3:22 of the chukker, doubling up on Valiente, 8-4. An Orchard Hill penalty resulted in a penalty goal from Cavanagh that cut the Orchard Hill lead back to three goals, 8-5. Juan Chavanne’s first goal of the day came at 1:21, 9-5, with Cavanagh scoring the final goal of the first half with just two seconds on the clock for a 9-6 Orchard Hill advantage.
When the chips are down you turn to your main man, and for Valiente that was the number one rated player in the world, Argentine 10-goaler Adolfo Cambiaso. This time it was Valiente with the opening goal as Cambiaso broke loose and scored from the opening throw-in, 9-7. Cambiaso just missed on another but made up for it two minutes later, scoring his second goal of the match and bringing Valiente to within a goal of the lead, 9-8. Goals from Facundo Pieres and Polito Pieres re-established the Orchard Hill lead at three goals, 11-8, but it was Cambiaso scoring the final goal of the period with just 15 seconds in the period to trail Orchard Hill, 11-9.
An aggressive fifth chukker saw Valiente take control of the game. Disciplined defense held Orchard Hill scoreless as Valiente picked up goals from Cavanagh and Matias Torres Zavaleta. The score was all even at 11-11 going into the final chukker of regulation play.
With everything on the line the tempo of the game increased as it became more physical. Hard ride-offs were the rule and close checking kept even the game’s top players at by. Two minutes into the sixth chukker Cambiaso scored his fourth goal of the game and had Valiente in the lead for the first time since the second chukker, 12-11. An Orchard Hill foul sent Cavanagh to the penalty line with three minutes on the clock and an opportunity to go up by two goals. The sure-hitting Cavanagh’s 40-yard shot carried wide, however, and the game played on. Facundo Pieres connected on a pass to Polito Pieres with 1:33 left in the chukker. Polito blistered a shot through the Valiente goalposts to tie the game, sending it into a sudden-death overtime chukker.
After a brief intermission, both teams returned to the field. Shots on goal from both Valiente and Orchard Hill went wide as the overtime chukker continued. A run down the field by Valiente was halted when the ball skipped over the sideboards as the clock continued to run. The ensuing throw-in was taken by Cavanagh who shot down the field to score their winning goal, 13-12, with 3:13 left in the overtime period.
For the second year in a row, the final of the US Open Championship was decided in overtime, and for the second time in two years the final score was 13-12. This year, however, it was Orchard Hill on the losing end after failing to defend their 2016 title in the most exciting game of the season.
Cavanagh led all scoring with eight goals (four on penalty conversions). Cambiaso added four goals and Zavaleta was credited with a goal for the win. Polito Pieres played every bit of his 10-goal rating as he scored a team-high six goals. Facundo Pieres added five goals (one on a penalty shot) and Chavanne scored once in a losing effort.
Zavaleta was named MVP for his impressive defensive efforts and great teamplay and received the Seymour Knox award. Cambiaso’s Cuartetera clone, B09, was presented with the Willis L. Hartman award as Best Playing Pony of the US Open; Los Machitos Jazzita (Facundo Pieres) was named Horse of the Year with Cambiaso’s Mentolada being honored as the Best Argentine-bred pony of the final.