WELLINGTON, Fla.-March 18, 2017-The countdown to the 2017 USPA Gold Cup® final March 26 is accelerating, with the last two games of bracket play this Sunday, March 19, at the International Polo Club Palm Beach (IPC). Polo doesn’t get any more turbo-torqued than this slate: Orchard Hill vs. Valiente at noon, and Audi Polo Team vs. Coca-Cola in the 3 p.m. featured match on Engel & Völkers field.
These four mega-teams have generated years of statistics—and adrenaline—opposing each other. While a lot can be said about them historically, some arrived at IPC with revamped line-ups this season that have shuffled the odds and challenged conventional wisdom. While it’s impossible to predict what the numbers on the scoreboard will say at the end of play Sunday, the 2017 season has lent some insights on how play amongst these teams is likely to unfold throughout the games.
Here’s a chukker-based look at how 26-goal play has shaken down for these teams to date.
Orchard Hill vs. Valiente
Perpetual archrivals Orchard Hill and Valiente come together for the third time this season, each having won once. Expect each team to start strong. Both Orchard Hill and Valiente in 26-goal events have produced the most scoring in chukkers 1 and 2, averaging 1.7 and 3.3 goals respectively. Valiente’s assault is led by 8-goaler Diego Cavanagh, who averages 3 goals through the first two chukkers, often providing his team with an early lead.
Valiente also benefits from their consistency throughout the game and by avoiding shutout chukkers. Throughout their three games in the C.V. Whitney Cup and USPA Gold Cup®, Valiente has only had 1 out of 18 chukkers with zero goals, an impressive result and a testament to their lockstep organization. That, combined with their high scoring rate early in the game, makes it very difficult for their opponent to generate a comeback.
In comparison, Orchard Hill has had 5 chukkers through 3 games in which they scored zero goals. However, an uncanny strength of Orchard Hill is their ability to finish games strong. They scored four goals against Audi in the final chukker in last Sunday’s game to grab a last-gasp victory on a full-field run by Facundo Pieres. In their last meeting against Valiente, Orchard Hill made 3 goals in the sixth.
Throughout the 26-goal, Orchard Hill has averaged 2.7 goals in the sixth chukker, more than any team. Facundo Pieres is the key: He accounts for 2 of his team’s 2.7 goals in the last chukker. The only other player to average more than 1 goal in the sixth chukker is Adolfo Cambiaso.
If the two teams play true to form—and there is no reason to expect otherwise—you can look forward to a heart-pounding finish between the two best players in the world.
Audi vs. Coca-Cola
Audi made their 2017 26-goal debut in a back-and-forth game against Orchard Hill, ultimately falling short in an extremely close match that went down to the final seconds. Audi was consistent throughout the game, scoring 2 goals in the first chukker, followed by 1 goal in each of the remaining 5 chukkers. Sunday they face a Coca-Cola team that has started slow in each of their games this season. However, Coca-Cola tends to dominate the middle portion of the game, averaging 4.7 goals in the third and fourth chukkers combined, a full two goals higher than any other team.
Whether this is attributed to Coca-Cola’s slow starts and need to begin a comeback or change in strategy after the second chukker, it is clear that Coca-Cola controls play during those chukkers. They have shot at goal 18 times in those two chukkers alone, 5 more than the next closest team. Coca-Cola has also won 14 throw-ins, the most of any team in 26-goal events.The ability of Audi to limit Coca-Cola in the middle of the game, especially red-jerseyed powerhouses Julio Arellano and Miguel Novillo Astrada, may determine who goes home victorious. Scoring all but one goal from the field last Sunday, Audi didn’t need to rely on penalty shots get on the board in each chukker. Rodrigo Andrade led with 4 field goals to keep Audi neck-and-neck with a tough and determined Orchard Hill team. This Sunday Audi could be successful against Coca-Cola if they can duplicate their performance from the field, while increasing their penalty performance closer to Gonzalito Pieres’s penalty average of 69.2% over the last year.
Game report, stats and photographs provided by International Polo Club Palm Beach.