WELLINGTON, Fl., April 12, 2017----In an emotionally-charged game, Flexjet won the battle of the unbeatens Wednesday in the 113th U.S. Open at Isla Carroll East.
Nine-goaler Gonzalito Pieres scored the winning goal on a neck shot with 1:08 left in regulation to give Flexjet a thrilling 10-9 victory over Valiente.
“I knew that I needed to make it,” Gonzalito Pieres said. “I missed an important one last Sunday. I said this one is going to go in.”
Flexjet (Melissa Ganzi, Rodrigo Andrade, Gonzalito Pieres and Nico Pieres), the only undefeated team (3-0) remaining in the six-team high goal tournament, snapped Valiente’s eight-goal winning streak that dates back to the C.V. Whitney Cup.
“This was a good win, it was a really tough game,” Nico Pieres said. “We knew Valiente was, I think, the best team of the tournament at the moment. We had a good plan. We beat them and this is important for us that we go straight to the semis.”
It was a day of firsts for Flexjet. It was the first time the Grand Champions Polo Club-based pro team advanced into the U.S. Open semifinal and first time Flexjet defeated Valiente in the team's history.
“I think this is really good for Melissa,” said Nico Pieres. “She made this team for the U.S. Open. It is a really good and fun team and I think it’s good for the whole organization.”
Much like its victories over Audi (10-9) and Travieso (11-9), Flexjet played with confidence and great teamwork among all four players.
“We are right where we want to be, it’s a thrill, it’s absolutely a thrill,” Ganzi said. “We were just trying to stay focused, play well and have a good game. We stuck with Gonzalito’s plan and it worked out well. He is a wonderful captain and one of the best players in the world.”
Flexjet, in attack mode from the opening chukker, was well-prepared for Valiente (Bob Jornayvaz, Matias Torres Zavaleta, Diego Cavanagh, Adolfo Cambiaso), winners of the C.V. Whitney Cup and USPA Gold Cup.
“We made a good plan,” Gonzalito Pieres said. “We played our game and I think it worked. It’s good to feel we are closer and now in the semis. It was really important for the horses.
“This is the first time we are with Melissa in the U.S. Open and I am happy she is in the semifinals so it’s really good. This is a really big win for our organization. They are the team of the season at the moment, no one beat them so we are the first ones.”
The victory was key for Flexjet, now able bypassSunday’s mini-quarterfinals and rest its horses for six days.
Flexjet was able to contain Cambiaso, the world’s top player, who has won seven U.S. Open titles including four in the last ten years.
“We kept the ball a lot and I think that was really important against a team like Valiente,” Nico Pieres said. “Possession of the ball against this team is really important and that was one of the most important things that we did quite good in the first half.”
Flexjet took advantage of Valiente’s early foul trouble and lost challenge early in the first chukker to lead 2-0. Andrade’s goal on a breakaway gave Flexjet a 3-0 lead.
Flexjet continued to control the game in the third chukker. By the 2:32 mark, Valiente had seven fouls and Flexjet had a comfortable 7-4 halftime lead before a brief rainshower.
Valiente again lost its challenge early in the second half as Flexjet maintained a 7-5 lead. The game was tied twice in the fifth chukker (7-7, 8-8).
Flexjet regained the lead, 9-8, early in the sixth chukker when Gonzalito Pieres converted his third penalty-two. Cavanagh tied the game with 1:58 left before Gonzalito Pieres came up with his game-winning heroics.
“Those neck shots are the best shots he has, so we knew he was going to put it in,” said Nico Pieres with a smile.
Gonzalito Pieres scored a game-high seven goals, including five on penalty conversions. Andrade had two goals and Nico Pieres added one.
Cavanagh led Valiente with four goals, including three penalty shots, Cambiaso had three and Zavaleta added two goals.
Flexjet converted 5-of-13 from the field and 5-of-6 from the penalty line. Valiente hit 6-of-11 shots and converted 3-of-4 penalty shots. Valiente led in throw-ins, 14-12, and fouls 14-10.
In other Wednesday games, Grand Champions Polo Club-based Audi defeated Coca-Cola, 14-8, for its first win of the tournament and Travieso defeated Orchard Hill, 9-8, also its first win of the tournament in the team's 26-goal debut.
There is a four-way tie between Coca-Cola, Orchard Hill, Audi and Travieso, all with 1-2 records. A shootout will be held Thursday at 9 a.m. to determine positioning for Sunday’s mini-quarterfinals. Valiente finished first in its bracket at 2-1 and also advanced into the semifinals.
Flexjet has been a member of the Directional Aviation family of companies since 2013. They are committed to creating premium travel experiences and providing access to the most modern, technologically-advanced aircraft in the industry on a daily basis, going above and beyond world-class private travel experiences and unlike anything else in the sky.
The tournament is being live-streamed on the USPA Polo Network at uspolo.org with content provided by production company and Wellington-based ChukkerTV. All games will also be available for on-demand viewing.
Grand Champions Polo Club, with eleven polo fields, caters to men, women and youth polo players at all levels. Its’ expert staff can customize a complete playing experience including horses, pros and certified umpires in addition to lessons and practice sessions as part of its’ Polo On Demand program, the only polo club in the U.S. to offer the unique program.
The Polo School at Grand Champions, a 501c3 organization, is dedicated to teaching polo to all ages, particularly grass roots youth. Its mission is to provide individuals in all walks of life opportunities in polo. The Polo School, directed by former 8-goaler Juan Bollini, operates in Wellington January through June and September through November.
2017 GRAND CHAMPIONS WINTER SCHEDULE
(Subject to change because of weather and scheduling conflicts).
APRIL: $100,000 World Cup Tournament (0-26 Goals), Thursday Semifinal Round, Valiente I vs. Orchard Hill, 11 a.m., Valiente Polo Farm, Field 3; Palm Beach Illustrated vs. Valiente II, 4 p.m., Valiente Polo Farm, Field 1; Saturday, Championship Final, 4 p.m., Grand Champions Polo Club Field 2.
APRIL: Las Acacias (4-8 Goals).
APRIL 21-23: GCPC Abierto.
APRIL 28-30: USPA Eastern Challenge.
MAY 5-7: USPA Sun Cup
MAY 12-14: The Spring Challenge Cup.
MAY 19-21: Polo Gear Invitational.
MAY 26-29: The Memorial.
GRAND CHAMPIONS POLO CLUB
WHERE: 13444 Southfields Road, on the corner of South Shore Boulevard and Lake Worth Road, Wellington, 33414.
INFORMATION: For spectators, there are great field side views for tournament action and also the Grand Champions Polo Club Boutique. The club is home base for pro teams Audi and Flexjet. Everyone is welcome to watch every level of polo in a relaxed atmosphere that includes food and refreshments during the featured games of the winter, spring and fall tournament seasons and other special events. Admission is free except for some special events.