WELLINGTON, FL-July 30, 2013—In a thrilling sudden death overtime match, Team USA’s rally fell short of returning the Westchester Cup to American soil.
Trailing England by two goals with less than two minutes remaining in regulation time, Wellington’s Nic Roldan and Mike Azzaro scored goals to tie the game at 11-11 and send it into overtime.
After a missed Team USA scoring opportunity early in overtime, John Paul Clarkin scored the winning goal for a 12-11 victory at Windsor Great Park’s Guards Polo Club in England.
Clarkin broke loose on a short breakaway, amazingly hitting the ball four times including twice in the air, before threading the goal with a reverse neck shot.
It was the third consecutive victory for England. The Brits won in 1997 (12-9 at Guards) and 2009 (10-9 in Wellington).
Team USA still leads in head-to-head competition with ten victories.
Team USA (Marc Ganzi, Polito Pieres, Nic Roldan, Mike Azzaro) were underdogs going into the game against England (brothers Luke and Mark Tomlinson), James Beim and JP Clarkin because of the home field advantage and talent-laden, lightning-quick horses but stayed with the Brits for most of the game.
“The game could have gone either way,” a disheartened Roldan said. “We had a breakaway for one shot (in overtime) and we had the momentum. It was a tough game. Both teams played great.”
Beim, who led scoring with four goals, was named the game’s Most Valuable Player.
Luke and Mark Tomlinson each scored three goals, including two penalty goals by Luke, and Clarkin added two goals.
In keeping with tradition and rules of the Westchester Cup, which allows England to feature one player from the Commonwealth, New Zealand’s JP Clarkin, whose wife is top woman’s player Nina Clarkin, was allowed to play for England.
Pieres’ third and sixth chukker Argentine-bred horse, Rollinga, was named Best Playing Pony.
Politos led scoring for Team USA with five goals. Roldan and Azzaro each had two goals.
The U.S. started with a 2-0 lead based on team handicaps (England, 28 goals, USA, 26 goals).
The U.S. led 3-2 after the first chukker, was tied 4-4 after the second and led 8-7 at first half. England regained momentum and took a 10-8 lead on a quick goal from Beim, after missing two early goals, and Luke Tomlinson’s penalty shot.
England continued to lead by two goals (11-9) until the U.S. found another gear and started to rally.
After Roldan missed a 60-yard penalty, the Cardinal Newman alum scored on a nearside shot. Roldan went on another scoring run with a big hit nicking the goalpost, leaving the ball for the quick-thinking Azzaro to back it in through in a crowd of players.
Ganzi, one of the nation’s top amateur polo players based at Grand Champions Polo Club in Wellington and responsible for bringing the team to England, played well defensively, riding off Tomlinson in several key plays.
Luke Tomlinson, captain of the Audi England team, said he felt fortunate to win the game.
“I feel very lucky,” Tomlinson said. “We were holding on the whole game. This is a momentous win.”
The oldest rivalry in U.S. polo history dating back to 1886 is one of the most coveted and prestigious Cups in the game regarded as the sport’s version of the Ryder Cup.
It was the 16th time the competition was held between the two countries.
The flagship event of the Audi International Polo Series and featured event of the Hurlingham Polo Association is well-supported by UK polo’s governing body.
Among the packed partisan crowd were several U.S. fans wearing red, white and blue and waving U.S. flags throughout the match.
His Royal Highness Prince Charles, who presented the awards after the game, was among VIP guests, seated by Claire Tomlinson, the matriarch of one of England’s polo dynasties.
During the traditional halftime divot stomp, Prince Charles broke with protocol walking past the safety ropes, mingling with the crowd and being congratulated by several well-wishers on the birth of his grandson, the newest member of the Royal Family, George Alexander Louis.
Roldan, as team captain of the Equus & Co. Team USA, was awarded the Gabriel Donoso Award after the game. Donoso, the highest rated Chilean player was popular in the UK and European circuit.
Roldan and Pieres avoided serious injury in the fourth chukker when they collided. Mark Tomlinson wasn’t as fortunate when he and Azzaro were both going for the ball when Azzaro’s mallet landed on Tomlinson’s nose and lip which he was icing after the game.
Sunday’s match, which was streamed live by Hurlingham for polo fans around the world, was also taped for re-broadcast on NBC Sports Network on Aug. 11 at 4 p.m.
GRAND CHAMPIONS POLO CLUB
WHERE: On the corner of South Shore Boulevard and Lake Worth Road, Wellington.
INFORMATION: There are great field side views for tournament action at the home base of pro teams Audi and Piaget. Everyone is welcome to watch polo in a relaxed atmosphere during the spring and fall tournament season and other special events including the International Cup in November, Buzz Welker Memorial Junior Tournament in March, Women’s Championship Tournament and Gay Polo League International Tournament, both in April.