Wellington polo season came to a thrilling finish last Sunday with the final match of the 2013 Maserati U.S. Open Championship at the International Polo Club Palm Beach.
The hard-fought match got off to a quick start, with the first six goals being scored in the opening six minutes of play. Defending champion Zacara trailed 13-12 going into the final chukker, but rallied to score four unanswered goals for the 16-13 win.
With the 2012 Zacara team returning intact — Facundo Pieres, Lyndon Lea, Magoo Laprida and Mike Azzaro — their back-to-back wins marks the first time since the 1937-38 season (Sonny Whitney’s Westbury foursome) when the exact same lineup returned to win the U.S. Open, and only the fourth time in American polo history.
The two teams wasted little time, scoring six goals in the opening six minutes of play for a 3-3 tie. Santi Torres scored his second consecutive penalty shot to give Valiente a 4-3 advantage over a hard-riding Zacara quartet.
Torres stole the ball from Zacara’s Azzaro at midfield less than a minute into play in the second period and raced 150 yards down the field for a goal and a 5-3 lead. Goals from Pieres (a penalty conversion) and Laprida had it all even at 5-5 at the end of the period.
An offensive binge in the third chukker resulted in five more goals with Valiente coming out on the positive side with an 8-7 halftime lead. Goals from Pieres and Laprida were countered by single goals from Adolfo Cambiaso, Pelon Stirling and Torres.
Zacara took advantage of Valiente fouls in the fourth chukker, with Pieres converting two 60-yard penalty shots for goals and adding another from the field. Valiente answered with a single goal from the field from Stirling, but trailed 10-9.
The two teams exchanged goals in the opening minutes of the fifth chukker, with Pieres scoring on a pair of penalty conversions. Valiente followed suit with penalty goals from Torres and Cambiaso to make the score 12-11. Cambiaso converted a safety for the tying goal, 12-12, with two minutes left in the chukker. Torres tapped through a penalty shot in the final 23 seconds of the period, and Valiente led by a single goal, 13-12, with one chukker of regulation time remaining.
Pieres took advantage of another Valiente penalty in the opening minute of the sixth chukker to knot it up again at 13-13, and Valiente struggled to regroup. Another penalty goal from Pieres had Zacara back in front with just over five minutes left in the game. Valiente fought to create scoring opportunities, but the Zacara defense was suffocating. Laprida added a goal for Zacara with under two minutes on the clock (1:47), and time seemed to be running out for Valiente.
A Zacara foul with just over a minute left in the game brought the ball to midfield for Valiente, but Cambiaso was arguing for a Penalty 4 — ball placement on the 60-yard mark and an opportunity to get back into the game. One of the umpires placed the ball at midfield despite the protest when frustration and emotions erupted as Cambiaso hit the ball off the placed spot, before the whistle was blown to commence play. An immediate penalty was assessed followed by a second whistle (for appealing the penalty) with 1:02 left in the game.
It was at this point that Cambiaso knew where it was headed and shook hands with the opposing players and withdrew from the field before being sent off the field. The foul was now enacted against Valiente, placing it on the 30-yard line where Pieres tapped it through for his 12th goal of the game and the 16-13 victory.
A jubilant Zacara team suffered through eight ties and a number of lead changes before securing the win, while a dejected Valiente team lumbered toward their end of the field.
Pieres scored 12 goals on the day (9 on penalty shots) to lead the field and was the recipient of the Seymour Knox Award as the Most Valuable Player of the U.S. Open. Laprida added three goals, and Azzaro was credited with a goal. Torres led the Valiente attack with six goals (four on penalty shots). Cambiaso scored two of his four goals from the field. Stirling was credited with two goals and Bob Jornayvaz scored once on the day.
Jornayvaz’s horse Medallion (played by Stirling) was named Best Playing Pony, and Facundo’s 7-year-old Bay mare Corcha was named Horse of the Year.
For more info., visit www.internationalpoloclub.com or call (561) 204-5687. Find IPC on Facebook, follow on Twitter @SundayPolo or visit www.ipcscoreboard.com for up-to-date scores, schedules, rosters and all other polo info.
ABOVE: Zacara’s Mike Azzaro, Magoo Laprinda, Lyndon Lea and Facundo Pieres celebrate their victory. PHOTOGRAPHY BY LILA PHOTO