Saturday night the Hanbury brothers pulled out their calendars and drew a big red circle around July 23: the date one of them will compete in the 2017 Jaeger-LeCoultre Gold Cup final. The match is one week from today, and for them it’s been a long time coming.
Five years have passed since Charlie and George Hanbury made it to the Gold Cup final, when their El Remanso team lost by a sliver (10-9) in 2012. This season is a little different: Each brother has his own team, and after yesterday’s quarterfinal wins both of them are a step closer to the trophy. El Remanso (Charlie Hanbury) defeated Monterosso 12-9, and Sommelier (George Hanbury) took the win over La Indiana 15-12. Now they have three days to rest before they go at it again in Wednesday’s semifinals.
Sommelier had their best game of the season Saturday and never trailed after getting out to an early 3-1 lead. It was a dominant performance from the powerful symbiosis of captain Fred Mannix and Juan Gris Zavaleta, who made 12 combined goals (9 from the field).
Sommelier dominated the first chukker, outshooting La Indiana 7-1 to get out to 3-1 lead. La Indiana bounced back in the second with six goals. Even though La Indiana shot well, they weren't getting the same number of chances because they were always on the defensive. The loss of Tincho Merlos to injury had a big hand in that. Without Merlos, Luke Tomlinson had to step up as more of a factor offensively than usual, which exposed La Indiana defensively.
Throughout the second and third chukkers the teams traded goals in an up-and-down game (12 total goals in 2 chukkers). The fourth was the real key for Sommelier, as they held La Indiana to zero shots with Zavaleta and Alec White scoring.
With Sommelier leading by a comfortable 12-7 in the middle of the fifth chukker, La Indiana started to dig in. La Indiana coach Pite Merlos, who won the Gold Cup 10 years ago, scored from the field, as did patron Michael Bickford. Nic Roldan persevered for La Indiana despite suffering a painful leg injury in the fifth. He combined with Tomlinson on an almost full-field run in the final chukker that went through goal on an insanely angled neck shot. Another La Indiana goal narrowed the gap to one (13-12).
Sommelier took note of the flashing neon sign. Wonder boy Zavaleta (who shared high-scorer status with Mannix and Tomlinson, each with 6 goals) scored back-to-back field goals to lock La Indiana out 15-12. Zavaleta was a delight to watch—but only if you were in the stands rather than facing him on the field. La Indiana took their eye off the ball for a split-second and left it unattended. Cardinal error. That’s all Zavaleta needed. He snatched the ball, and with no one making a move to stop him he whiz-banged to goal like the Roadrunner leaving Wile E. Coyote in a dust devil.
No one was more pumped after the game than Mannix. “Today we showed as a team that we can be one of the best teams here in England. We’ve been working really hard to gel and produce this kind of scenario for ourselves, and it all came together. We’ve been really focused and believed that we could do it, and today the proof is in the pudding,” said Mannix.
“We defined the way we wanted to play in the first two minutes of the game. We came out and said, ‘Win or lose, this is the way we want to play. We’re sharp, mentally organized and ready.’ I think it showed right from the first throw-in.”
Sommelier were able to generate a lot more scoring chances, in large part due to controlling the majority of throw-ins and winning 22 of 32 of them. Sommelier were effective at taking those set plays (throw-ins, knock-ins) and turning them into goals. La Indiana seemed a bit at loose ends without their mainstay Tincho Merlos (out with injury; subbed by Pite Merlos). It showed in the team’s out-of-character disorganization. Tincho usually starts the possession for La Indiana and really directs the flow and direction of the La Indiana offense. Pite Merlos provided a different type of player, more in more of a finisher type of role on the receiving end, where as Tincho usually initiates the plays. That put more pressure on Luke Tomlinson and Roldan to do so, which may have diminished their defensive efforts in containing Zavaleta and Mannix.
Sommelier shot 12/20 (60%) from the field. La Indiana shot 10/12 (83%). Sommelier’s 8 shots more than La Indiana made the difference.
Sommelier dominated throw-ins, winning 22 compared to only 10 for La Indiana
Juan Zavaleta made 6 goals. Before yesterday he averaged 2.5 goals per game.
All Photos by Snoopy Productions
All 2017 Gold Cup games are being live streamed on pololine.tv.
Complete tournament schedule and daily game locations can be found here.