Audi Wins Opener Against FlexJet In 111th U.S. Open Tournament Thriller
Arianna Delin, Sharon Robb for Grand Champions Polo Club
Audi, coming off its Piaget USPA Gold Cup tournament win, turned back upset-minded FlexJet, 11-10, Sunday in the opening round of the 111th U.S. Open at International Polo Club Palm Beach.
With 1:55 left in regulation, Gonzalito Pieres scored on a penalty shot to clinch the victory for Audi (Marc Ganzi, 1, Rodrigo Andrade, 9, Gonzalito Pieres, 9, Freddie Mannix, 6).
It was the third consecutive game Pieres won by converting a penalty shot.
“I have been practicing,” said Pieres, who finished with seven goals, including four on penalty shots. “It always happens after you win a tournament. You are happy everything went good before and then you fall asleep in the first game of the next tournament. The other team goes after you and plays it like it’s a final.”
It was a wild three-game, eight-hour polo marathon on Sunday. Lechuza Caracas knocked off defending champion Alegria Assist Card, 13-12 in overtime and Orchard Hill defeated Valiente, 15-14, also in overtime.
“It’s a lot of pressure,” said Audi’s Freddie Mannix. “All the teams will tell you today, no doubt, that there’s a lot on the line, a lot of pressure to win the first game of the U.S. Open.
“We were very lucky when you think about the shots they missed,” Mannix said. “We know we can play a lot better. We didn’t play up to our potential.
“Credit to them, they have good players and they came to play. We didn’t have our best game but we still won and that tells us something about the team.”
FlexJet (Grant Ganzi, 1, Magoo LaPrida, 8, Miguel Novillo Astrada, 9, Nic Roldan, 8) came ready to play.
Audi player patron Marc Ganzi, playing with a well-taped separated right shoulder, was happy to escape with the team’s sixth consecutive win over two tournaments.
“They felt this was the right time to catch us right after the final,” Ganzi said. “We were afraid of a letdown. We came out flat. You could see it in the horses, you could see it in the rhythm. We knew today was going to be really challenging.
“We took a long week off and it ended up as the wrong plan. We’re going to get back to work this week and try to fix a few things.
“Gonzalito has been great,” Ganzi said. “He’s been practicing a lot. It’s one of those things. Your input equals your output in penalties. He’s been great in the practices, he’s been great in the games. He bailed us out today. That was a tough team. You pretty much have to play perfect polo against these guys to win. They were well-prepared with their game plan for us.”
Grant Ganzi, 16, a junior at St. Andrew’s School, replaced his mother Melissa in the lineup making him the youngest player in the tournament. It was Ganzi’s first major 26-goal tournament start and U.S. Open appearance. It was one of several games he has played against his father.
“I thought we had it, I thought we were going to get it,” the teenager said. “We had a lot of bad luck. We were well-prepared going into the game. It wasn’t what I was hoping for my first real 26-goal game.”
Added Pieres, “He’s young and hungry. He is going to be a good player.”
The physical battle was close from the opening chukker. Audi opened with a 2-1 lead. FlexJet came back with a big second chukker, outscoring Audi 4-2 for a 5-4 lead to end the chukker. FlexJet still had a one-goal advantage at the half (7-2) after a 2-2 third chukker.
Audi came back in the fourth (2-1) and fifth chukker (1-0 shutout) to lead 9-8 after the fifth.
It all came down to the final chukker. Despite Andrade’s aggressive play, Astrada and LaPrida worked the ball downfield only to miss a scoring opportunity. Roldan came back with a pinpoint neck shot to tie the game, 9-9, with 5:18 left.
“We came out with a strategy and we stuck to it,” Roldan said. “We knew they were going to be tough, they just won the Gold Cup. I think we did really good. We had a little bit of bad luck. It could have gone either way. We had our chances to win.”
Pieres scored the first of two six-chukker penalty goals to give Audi a 10-9 lead with 4:43 left.
After a blocking call against Audi, Astrada took the penalty five spot hit and worked the ball downfield to Roldan who passed it back to Astrada for the goal which was ruled just wide. A further review of the goal was inconclusive and the call of no goal was upheld.
With 2:27 left, Astrada connected with LaPrida for a goal and 10-10 tie. A costly FlexJet penalty with 1:55 set up Pieres’ winning penalty shot. Ball-hawking defense by Mannix and Andrade stalled FlexJet’s hope of sending the game into overtime.
FlexJet had its scoring opportunities throughout the game missing at least five goals from the field and penalty line.
“It is disappointing, we had the chances,” Astrada said. “It happens. I think we have a great team and hopefully we still have chances.
“Audi is a very good team and has the advantage,” Astrada said. “They came from winning the Gold Cup and they have a lot of confidence. This was such a good game and for the first time with this team lineup we did a really good job. We were really well-prepared.
In addition to Pieres’ seven goals, Andrade had three goals and Mannix added one. For FlexJet, LaPrida and Astrada each had four goals and Roldan added two.
The use of instant replay and team challenges during the 26-goal season continue to make a positive difference in the game. It’s been praised by players and patrons. Both Audi and FlexJet used the team challenges in the final.
ChukkerTV, leaders in polo broadcasting, introduced the state-of-the-art technology in January, 2014 at Grand Champions Polo Club where it got rave reviews about the cutting-edge technology to help improve the sport and officiating.
Grand Champions was the first polo club in the world to offer the technology where teams are allowed to challenge an umpire’s call during a game.
It is the first time in the sport’s history, instant replay and team challenges are being utilized. No club in the world has used the technology. Only replays are used in Argentina and other tournaments around the world.
Audi, one of the most successful polo teams in the last decade and 2009 U.S. Open champion, is sponsored by the German automobile manufacturer that designs, engineers, produces, markets and distributes luxury automobiles. Audi, founded in 1909, oversees its worldwide operations from its headquarters in Ingolstadt, Bavaria, Germany.
Chukker TV.com is live streaming all IPC high polo games through April 19th in addition to various Grand Champions Polo Club tournament games and also offers re-broadcasts, Video On Demand and player interviews.
2015 POLO ON DEMAND
Grand Champions Polo Club, featuring five world-class fields, has a full schedule of tournaments from January to May. Let our polo experts create a turn-key experience including top pros to bring out the best in you and your team. Lessons are available.
APRIL 3-18: USPA President’s Cup
APRIL 3-18: Las Acacias Cup
SPRING 2015 SCHEDULE:
April 16-19, Grand Champions Cup; April 23-26, USPA Spring Challenge; April 30-May 3, USPA Sun Cup; May 7-10, USPA Eastern Challenge; May 14-17, Polo Gear Challenge Cup; May 21-25, The Memorial; May 24-25, USPA NYTS; May 28-31, Santa Rita Memorial.
GRAND CHAMPIONS POLO CLUB
WHERE: 13444 Southfields Road, on the corner of South Shore Boulevard and Lake Worth Road, Wellington, 33414.
DIRECTOR OF POLO: Juan Olivera, 561-644-5050, firstname.lastname@example.org
INFORMATION: There are great field side views for tournament action at the home base of pro teams Audi, FlexJet and Casablanca. Everyone is welcome to watch high, medium and low goal polo in a relaxed atmosphere that includes a free Argentine asado during the winter, spring and fall tournament season and other special events including the April 1 Polo Training Foundation Exchange: New Zealand Schools vs. Team USA, 4 p.m., April 7, New Zealand Schools Round Robin, 4 p.m., April 1-4 Women’s Championship Tournament (WCT) and International Cup in November. Admission is free except for special events.