Apr 25, 2022 7:02 PM
In the ultimate test of will and resilience, a historic 38 games culminated in the finale of the U.S. Open Polo Championship at International Polo Club (IPC) in Wellington, Florida, between La Elina (Juan Martin Obregon, Geronimo Obregon*, Facundo Obregon, Jared Zenni*) and Pilot (Curtis Pilot, Mackenzie Weisz, Matias Torres Zavaleta, Facundo Pieres). Rising through a record-breaking field of twenty teams for the first time in over 100 years of the U.S. Open’s illustrious history, the two opponents differing in roster construction and style each blazed their own path into the most prestigious and anticipated final of the high-goal season to showcase their talent and horsepower on the U.S. Polo Assn. Field.
Captivating audiences from the debut of the GAUNTLET OF POLO, Pilot’s focus on unified play and undeniable organizational strength delivered them the coveted USPA Gold Cup title. Continuing their undefeated play in the U.S. Open, Pilot overtook C.V. Whitney Cup champions Park Place in the semifinals to claim their second consecutive final appearance for the first time since raising the GAUNTLET trophy in 2019.
Entering the GAUNTLET in the USPA Gold Cup, La Elina faced early adversity in the U.S. Open beginning with a brand-new roster following the loss of 10-goaler Sapo Caset to fellow challenger Scone. Opting for a more balanced approach to their reconstructed team, brothers Juan Martin, Geronimo and Facundo Obregon united with original member Zenni to form La Elina’s seamless quartet. Battling through an extra elimination match-up in the playoffs against Sol de Agosto, La Elina’s determination and physicality carried them into the U.S. Open Polo Championship with a five-game winning streak to meet powerhouse Pilot for the first time.
“It’s an amazing feeling playing with my two brothers and Jared, whom I’ve known for seventeen years—it’s like playing with another brother.” – Geronimo Obregon
Leading the GAUNTLET in goals, penalties conversions and throw-in’s won, Pilot’s Pieres continued his dominant reign over the competition, contributing a spectacular eight-goal performance to drive Pilot’s commanding offense to a seven-goal halftime lead. Working in-step with Zavaleta and Weisz to circulate the ball forward, an open game of polo allowed both teams to give maximum effort on the field to determine the victor.
“I needed this win for myself, personally. I was struggling a little bit with confidence. Now I feel I deserve to be where I am. I work a lot for it, that’s why I’m proud of everything I’ve done.” – Facundo Pieres
As La Elina managed to cut their deficit to five, Pilot’s equally impressive defensive efforts against a gritty opponent held La Elina’s leading scorer Juan Martin Obregon to just two goals. Adhering to their strategy and relying on each other for support and success to carry their lead into the final minutes of play, Pilot’s 2022 comeback season was finally complete with a commanding 11-6 victory to reclaim the title and $100,000 in prize money.
Entering the final having scored 104 goals and holding five U.S. Open titles to his name (Audi 2009, Zacara 2012 & 2013, Orchard Hill 2016, Pilot 2019), Pieres sparked Pilot’s offensive efforts by stripping the ball from Facundo Obregon for the first goal of the match. Quickly followed by a second successful drive by Pieres, Zenni responded for La Elina in open play, but the impact of the 10-goaler was undeniable in the first chukker as Pieres pushed Pilot to an early three-goal lead.
Although his team went undefeated throughout the USPA Gold Cup and U.S. Open Polo Championship, Curtis Pilot entered the final with the utmost respect for La Elina. “I was very nervous coming into this one,” noted Pilot, “It’s a very balanced team with four pros. I’m not a pro, we had three against four, but Facundo went to the goal in the first chukker and it took some of the nerves out.” Weisz continued, “we had to play well on defense. We knew that it was a very, very even team. There are three brothers who are very eager, and we had to play defense and attack.”
Answering their two-goal deficit, a complete team effort from La Elina resulted in Facundo Obregon carrying the ball across the line, but Pilot’s unified play matched their counterparts as Pieres embarked on a run to score three unanswered goals to put Pilot ahead with a firm 6-2 advantage. Upping their defensive efforts against a driving Pieres, La Elina’s double-team on Pilot’s captain resulted in both Wiesz and Zavaleta creating space on the field and contributing to Pilot’s six-goal third chukker.
Seizing control of the offensive play, Pilot’s lockdown defense held La Elina to just two goals, giving Pilot a commanding 9-2 lead at the half. “I never thought that we were going to go into halftime up by seven,” said Pieres. “That gave us a lot of peace of mind, not everything worked out at first, but we recovered important balls and scored the goals we had to.”
“Sometimes when we get a big lead we relax too much—but you don’t relax in the U.S. Open!” – Curtis Pilot
Taking time to reenergize during the break, La Elina managed to redirect the momentum back into their hands following two quick goals from Zenni and Juan Martin Obregon. With La Elina attempting to claw back into contention, Curtis Pilot spoke to his team's fourth chukker performance, “it got a little flat on us. [Our strategy] was to come out and not lose the chukker. Sometimes when we get a big lead we relax too much—but you don’t relax in the U.S. Open!” Pieres managed to evade a swarm of pink jerseys to score his seventh goal of the game and keep Pilot firmly in the driver’s seat 10-4.
Zavaleta reflected on Pilot’s efficient second half strategy, “we had to continue the same as we had been playing and maintain our system. We had to take control of the ball when they were on offense because they’re four strong players—we had to watch out.” Sticking to their men and playing out the remainder of regulation with grit, Pilot was able to withstand the final shooting blitz from La Elina, as the former champions returned to the U.S. Open Polo Championship podium in an unforgettable 11-6 victory.
Capturing his first U.S. Open title, 19-year-old Weisz expressed, “It’s always been a dream [of mine]. As a child, you want to be here and you want to win. Winning today is impressive and I can’t believe it! I want to thank all the grooms and Pilot’s manager [Gonzalo de la Fuente] for being involved.” Averaging nearly 2.5 goals per game in the GAUNTLET and steadily improving in every match, Weisz also recalled the experience of playing alongside Pieres, “Facundo’s timing is impressive. The things he does are incredible, and you have to learn from him.”
“I’m grateful to all those who support me including my family, they knew I was going through a rough moment, but they were all behind me, so it was very special.” – Facundo Pieres
For his outstanding offense and leadership contributions, Facundo Pieres received the Seymour H. Knox Most Valuable Player award of the U.S. Open Polo Championship final, as well as the Most Valuable Player of the GAUNTLET. With his ability to captivate teammates, opponents, and audiences alike, Pieres revealed that his outward dominance was not always reflected internally, “I needed this win for myself, personally. I was struggling a little bit with confidence. I’m happy to be back here, I really wanted to feel these sensations again—to win and feel comfortable.”
Pieres elaborated, “Now I feel good. I feel I deserve to be where I am. I work a lot for it, that’s why I’m proud of everything I did. I’m also happy because my family is supporting me and helping me, they knew I was going through a rough moment, but they were all behind me, so it was very special. I’m grateful to all those who support me, the whole team did everything to be in this situation. In the end it was worth it.”
Working through moments of self-doubt with the support of family and friends, Pieres’ constant professionalism and dedication to the sport was reflected in numerous individual achievements throughout the season. Scoring a staggering 112 total goals, including 46 penalty conversions, Pieres spoke on his achievements, “when I started this season, I proposed to myself that I wanted to score every penalty and the most goals that I could. I wanted to do that, and I wanted to win. The team won, the horses won, everything was special.”
Claiming five Best Play Pony awards throughout U.S. Open competition (KY Goldielocks, Open Candy Kiss, Open Serenety, Corcha, Mega Espía), Pieres’ impressive string continued to accrue multiple prestigious awards including the Willis L. Hartman trophy for the USPA’s U.S. Open Polo Championship final Best Playing Pony which was presented to Mega Espía played in the first and fifth chukkers (Open Cabernet x Spuky), USPA U.S. Open Polo Championship Tournament Best Playing Pony to Open Candy Kiss (Ellerstina Picaro x Candy’n Filly), and USPA Best Playing Pony of the GAUNTLET to Corcha.
Also included in the sweep of Best Playing Pony categories, Pieres’ Open Maks (Open Cabernet x Spuky) took home Best Polo Argentino of the U.S. Open Polo Championship final and IPC’s Horse of the Year. Commenting on which horses he was most proud of this season Pieres noted, “they’re all very special but probably Open Maks [9-year-old chestnut mare and full sister of Mega Espía] and Open Candy Kiss. They came this year and I think Open Maks was probably my best mare in the tournament.”
“When I started this season, I proposed to myself that I wanted to score every penalty and the most goals that I could. I wanted to do that, and I wanted to win.” – Facundo Pieres
Each team receiving a $2,500 donation in partnership with U.S. Polo Assn. to gift to a polo charity of their choice, Pilot’s donation was given to the Polo Players Support Group while La Elina’s went to the Polo Pony Rescue. Raising his second U.S. Open trophy at the helm of the Pilot organization, Curtis Pilot shared his plans to once again honor his daughter Nikki Pilot Carlisle who passed away from breast cancer in 2019, “100 percent of the funds we get in any form or fashion all goes to charity. Because of my daughter, it’s all going to cancer-related foundations.”
Suffering the sting of losing the final tournament of the season, Geronimo Obregon still needed time to regroup following the end of La Elina’s incredible run, stating, “when I cool off and don’t think about this game and [focus] on what we’ve done and how we got here, I’m going to have a better attitude. [Pilot] was a really tough team and really well mounted. We didn’t have our best game. Our last three chukkers were better than our first, and they took advantage of that.”
Obregon continued, “we did a lot to get here, which at the moment you don’t think about. You think, ‘we could’ve done this, we could’ve done that.’” Still, Obregon remains incredibly proud of La Elina’s dynamic season, “it was a team that was made up five days before playing, it’s an amazing feeling playing with my two brothers and Jared, whom I’ve known for seventeen years—it’s like playing with another brother.”
Celebrating their monumental victory with an afterparty at the Mallet Grille and a traditional dive into the IPC pool, members of Pilot will soon go their separate ways to prepare for their upcoming schedules.
Back on top for his second U.S. Open celebration following a win with Adolfo Cambiaso and Valiente in 2016, Zavaleta shared his future polo endeavours, “I’m going to compete in Brazil, [followed by] the 18-goal with Antelope in Santa Barbara, California, then to Argentina for the qualification with Lucas Monteverde, Rodrigo Andrade and Cruz Heguy.”
Also maintaining an active competitive calendar Pilot stated, “In September I’m going to play the Jockey Club Open in Argentina with the three Pieres’ brothers [Facundo, Gonzalito, Nico]. In 2019 when I won the GAUNTLET, I also won the Jockey Club with the three brothers. I’m not saying I’m going to win it [again], but I’m going to try!” Finally, Pieres is looking forward to some much-deserved downtime after riding the waves of adversity and success, “I’m going back to Argentina for a 10-day vacation to see my family and then then I’m headed to England to play with Park Place.”
*Geronimo Obregon and Jared Zenni are Team USPA alumni. Team USPA is a USPA program designed to enhance and grow the sport of polo in the United States by identifying young, talented American players and providing mentored training and playing opportunities leading to a pool of higher rated amateur and pro players and the resultant giveback to the sport of polo.
All photos courtesy of ©David Lominska.
Effective Date: Saturday, May 16, 2020
The suspension of USPA Tournaments and Events will be lifted for USPA Member Clubs in locales where hosting polo matches and tournaments is permitted under applicable state and local laws, executive orders and similar decrees. The USPA Member Clubs in these locales are encouraged to follow all such requirements of their state and local authorities with respect to polo operations. In addition, we also encourage all USPA Member Clubs to take the precautions recommended by the CDC. We are preparing a detailed list of best practices for USPA Member Clubs as they return to hosting USPA Tournaments and Events and plan to circulate these guidelines within the next week. We will continue to monitor the COVID-19 situation closely and will notify you if we determine a different course of action is necessary.Read More