After experiencing great success in the U.S. in the USPA Gold Cup and the U.S. Open Polo Championship with Pilot, 10-goaler and polo extraordinaire Facundo Pieres is once again proving his prowess in the sport, recently triumphing with Park Place (Josh Hyde, Louis Hine, Facundo Pieres, Francisco Elizalde) in the British Open Championship for the Cowdray Gold Cup. While Park Place got off to a slow start, they were able to build momentum over the course of the tournament to ultimately upend the undefeated Dubai 12-9 in the exhilarating U.K. final.
Pieres sat down with CLICKPOLOUSA to talk about his recent accomplishments, his perseverance in the British Open Championship for the Cowdray Gold Cup and what the future holds for him.
Sporting-wise, how has your year been on a scale of 1-10?
“Sporting-wise, I’m at a 10. We closed an amazing season, managing to win with Park Place, which was a goal and a dream I’ve had in the two to three years since I’ve been with the organization. I know that everyone wanted to win a tournament like this one, and we managed to do just that.”
You hadn’t won the U.S. Open Polo Championship and a top English tournament since 2016, what do you think of achieving that once again?
“I think it’s not an easy feat. It’s not easy to win in the U.S. and England. In 2019, we had a great season in the U.S. and we won some titles, but we had a so-so year in England, playing for La Indiana. In 2020, the year the pandemic started, we lost the Queen’s Cup Final playing for Park Place in overtime. In 2021, we had a bad year in both the U.S. and the U.K. when it comes to cups and trophies. We didn’t win any, and I think we didn’t make any finals. This year was better.”
Pieres had a successful 2022 GAUNTLET with Pilot capturing both the USPA Gold Cup and U.S. Open Polo Championship. ©David Lominska.
In England, the team didn’t do great in the group stage, but then really shined in the elimination brackets. Why do you think that is?
“The team started slow and got a lot better. We weren’t the favorite to win, but I think finding any clear favorite was difficult this year. Things were very close and there were a lot of great teams. Any team could’ve won in the quarterfinals, and there were even some teams that didn’t make it that could’ve won the title. We improved with every match, after losing our group stage games against Talandracas and Dubai, and we were forced to win the two remaining games and still didn’t have a guaranteed spot. We managed to get in and started doing better. We had better game[s] against Marqués de Riscal in the quarterfinals and in the semifinals against Talandracas, whom we had lost [to in bracket play]. We did even better, and I think we had our best game on the day of the final.”
In the final, you had a great win against Dubai, a team you had lost to prior. Dubai had Jeta Castagnola playing at a very high level. Did you have any special plans to mark him?
“The idea was to keep him marked, be orderly in defense and cover our areas in steps, so that if he were to score it’d be more difficult. He’d need to make it past two or three players, not just one. It was an area defense. I think that for a player like Jeta, with how fast he is, how quick he is, and how good he is, if you mark him with one player that might work one, two times, but in a six chukker game, you will always lose in the end. I think that, for players who are that good, forcing them to face more players and stopping them from running off works best.”
2022 British Open Championship for the Cowdray Gold Cup Champions: Park Place – Josh Hyde, Louis Hine, Andrey Borodin, Francisco Elizalde, Facundo Pieres. ©Mark Beaumont
After the U.S. Open we had an interview were you talked about personal changes you were hoping to make, namely that you were trying to enjoy the game more. Did you find yourself enjoying the British Open Gold Cup?
“I did enjoy it, though maybe not the entire tournament, as we’d been suffering and playing so-so. Everything is more fun when the team works by itself, and you have better or worse matches. But [when] the team works, you enjoy it more. However, in cases like these, at the end when you win, you enjoy it most, as you know how hard it was [and] how much you had to work for it, and then you are truly happy. I really enjoyed this one because of that. We had a really hard time finding the teamwork and team play to make the team work like it did.”
After that interview where you spoke about your personal mindset, did you get a lot of messages?
“My closest friends, those who are always with me, know about this process. I haven’t changed that much, either. I’ve always been open to help, to advice. I like listening to those who are close to me, those who I respect and love. I’ve never felt like I knew everything in every regard, or that everything I said or did was correct. I’ve always known there was more to learn, but I got deeper into that mindset. I feel good, confident. I want to play, to win, to be fighting for the top spot. It’s just a bit of that, not a lot more.”
Pieres contributed five goals in Park Place’s British Open Championship for the Cowdray Gold Cup victory. ©Mark Beaumont
Polo in particular is a sport where players don’t often rely on outside help to improve, like coaches or psychologists. Do you think that is the case for you?
“Maybe, but when you look into it, a lot of people have sport or personal psychologists. I think that, in my case, I’m simply open to anything that makes me feel better, both on the polo field and off the field, and anything that can help me open my eyes to a new teaching [or] a new improvement. Sometimes you are blind to things that just need to be pointed out to you. You need to be told some things. I think it helps in that regard.”
There is still some time before the Argentine season, but not that long. What can these titles bring to Ellerstina’s table?
“I’m confident and feeling well. I hope I can stay in that mindset and that it helps the team. I know I am aware that when I’m doing well and confident, it helps the team. It’s key, every player is essential to the team, and in my case, it’s key that I’m doing well and confident.”
Pieres will now turn his attention to competing for Ellerstina in the up-coming Argentine season. ©Mark Beaumont
How are you feeling about Ellerstina’s chances this year for the Argentine season?
“Ellerstina, when we were all there, with Hilario [Ulloa] on the field, was amazing, I loved it. Last year we played an entire month without Hilario, and when he came back, we were missing Nico [Pieres]. Nico has been playing well in Ellerstina for many years, we missed him a lot. He’s our back, he keeps us orderly and allows us to move forward. If we manage to have a team like 2020 Ellerstina, we have a great team, I think we’ll have high chances to win some tournaments. Of course, like we always say, winning or losing depends on which team works best, whose horses are doing best and who plays a bit better. However, I think that if the team works like [we did] in 2020, we’ll have a good shot.”
La Natividad’s win in the Argentine Open changed things a bit, as the new generation confirmed their strength in the sport. How do you feel being one of the “older” players, playing against young players like the Castagnolas, Poroto Cambiaso and Rufino Bensadon?
“We are not that old, either! I’m only 36. However, the kids make you want to improve. You know that you need to be fast and quick on your feet or else they’ll run you over. I think it’s good motivation. I want to play against the best, against people who play good, strong, fast polo. It’s a great feeling, it’s just great. I’d much rather have that than play slow, stalled polo, where everything is a mess. Ellerstina plays, I think at least, a fast style of polo, especially with Hilario on the field.
We play our best when we are fast, when we speed things up. It’s when Gonzalito does his best. I think Ellerstina plays like that, fast, quick, like the kids do. You still need to note who is better at it and, of course, sometimes you look at how a game is going and realize that, no matter how fast you are trying to play, if it’s not working, you need to change and slow down. We need to be open to play anything we might need to play.”