First Round Wins for Lucchese, Dubai, Orchard Hill and White Birch
The most prestigious title of the USA season began on Saturday 2 April with one of the fastest games yet of the 26 goal season, between John Muse’s Lucchese side and Melissa Ganzi’s Flexjet. Despite excellent team play from the Merlos brothers, aided by their American teammate 8 goaler Nic Roldan, Lucchese got the better of Flexjet with a score of 13-11, in what was a very close game. It was not until the final chukka that Nico Pieres and Guillermo ‘Sapo’ Caset were able to score the 3 goals that put them into the lead they would retain until the final whistle announced their opening match victory.
The Dubai vs Coca-Cola game was not such a close contest, with Dubai taking charge of the match from the off. Keeping at least 2 goals ahead throughout, there was little question as to who would come out on top despite a valiant effort on the part of Julio Arellano, who led the scoring for his team in the loss. Unable to keep up with the mighty Cambiaso playing alongside the talented Alejo Taranco and Facundo Sola, Coca-Cola succumbed to a 14-8 defeat.
Play continued on Sunday 3 March with wins for Orchard Hill and White Birch. In the first match of the day, Orchard Hill took to the field against Audi with 10 goaler Juan Martin Nero filling in for fellow 10 goaler Polito Pieres, who is still recovering from a shoulder separation suffered in the team’s USPA Gold Cup Quarter Final win against Flexjet. An early 5-0 lead for Orchard Hill set the scene for the rest of the match, with Audi unable to contend with the might of Steve Van Andel’s side featuring world ranked number two, Facundo Pieres. A last minute push from brother and opposition Gonzalito Pieres saw Audi make a brave attempt to catch-up, but it was already too late and Orchard Hill rode off the victors, 12-10.
The final match of the weekend saw White Birch take the wind out of defending champions Valiente’s sails with an 11-7 win, which saw Valiente trailing through the game. However, Valiente were missing a number of very important ingredients to last year’s championship team in the form of both Alejo Taranco and Adolfo Cambiaso (playing for Dubai in this year’s Open), but it was an aggressive White Birch team that made the difference in the Sunday afternoon game. White Birch were rewarded with an 11-7 victory for their efforts.
Play will continue on Saturday 9 April, when another weekend full of polo will see the eight teams battle it out in the second round of play.
Photograph: Coca-Cola challenge Dubai for the ball in the first round of the US Open. By Alex Pacheco