Wellington, FL - Team USA dominated Chile from start-to-finish to capture the USPA International Cup with a convincing 13-8 victory Saturday at windswept Grand Champions Polo Club. It was the second consecutive year Team USA has won the coveted trophy in front of a hometown crowd that included VIPs and dignitaries including Chile Consul General Juan Luis Nilo in the final game of the 2013 fall season.
In last year's game, Team USA defeated England, 8.5-6.
"Always when you play for your country there is a different element to it," said Nic Roldan of Wellington, a Cardinal Newman High School alum, who was named Most Valuable Player for the second straight year. "It's an honor and it feels great to represent the United States again and to take home the trophy," Roldan said.
Team USA held Chile scoreless in the opening chukker to lead 4-0 and never let Chile back in the game. Team USA led 6-1 after two chukkers and 10-3 after three chukkers.
Roldan finished with five goals and teammate Jeff Hall scored a game-high six goals, including five in the first three chukkers. Marc Ganzi added two goals and Carlitos Gracida played well defensively turning back several Chile scoring attempts.
"We came out with a plan and we came out really strong," Roldan said. "I think we took them by surprise. It's always an advantage when you are playing on your own home soil."
"The Chileans are world-class players and they are sportsmen," Roldan said. "It was fun having them here and it was a good match."
For Roldan it was a successful end to an outstanding fall season, winning both the USPA North American Cup and USPA National 20-Goal Tournaments for the second year in a row with Audi.
"The 20-goals were our main focus and the international game and we took home all three," Roldan said. "I can't complain, Marc can't complain. We are all really happy with the way the team played. We are happy with the way Carlitos is advancing and we're getting ready for the big season and ready to go."
The victory avenged a one-goal loss for Hall, 33, of America's top players, the last time he represented the U.S. against Chile in Santiago. "You always want to come out and start strong," said Hall, who easily could have shared MVP honors with Roldan. "I think we broke their back right off the bat. We pretty much out-played them all around. "Representing the U.S., you are representing your country and you want to do the best you can," Hall said. "We went out there to do that."
Jose Antonio Iturrate, making his first U.S. appearance since 2003, made his final appearance as a member of the Chile national team. The former 8-goaler said he will continue to play in Chile. "They have a good team and first I have to congratulate them," Iturrate said. "They are a tough team, they play really well. I know Marc is not a high-goal player but he understands polo and played very well. He was tough with the plays.
"It was just a shame how the refereeing went the first chukker," Iturrate said. "That changed the game completely. They blew many ridiculous fouls for us and we became very disappointed and let down. After the second chukker we tried our best. But I think the fouls hurt us."
While Chile has a solid polo resume including the 2008 FIP World Championships and 2013 BMW International Polo Series, the team was no match for Team USA which had both chemistry among its players and horses which they changed frequently during the five-chukker game.
Chile had its share of penalties early in the game which seemed to frustrate them on both ends of the field. "It's tough for them," Hall said. "They don't know the horses or how to play them. They were complaining a lot about the fouls and they were legit big fouls but for some reason I think there is a big difference in rules between Chile and the U.S. I think they let people get away with more in Chile than they do here."
Juan Sanchez, a member of the Chile team that defeated the U.S., 6-5, in the 2011 FIP Polo World Cup, knew the U.S. would be tough to beat on its home turf. "They were so quick in the first chukker and we were behind four goals before we knew it," Sanchez said. "It is very hard winning here."
Said Matias Vial when a fan walked up to him and said Chile needed one more chukker, he shook his head and said, "We needed five more chukkers. They were too tough and too fast." Added Max Silva, "They played very well. We were so slow in some plays. It's okay. The horses were very good and easy. It is hard to be here and win on their horses in their country but that's okay. It was a good game."
Vial led Chile scoring with four goals, Iturrate had two goals including the last one of the game and Silva and Sanchez each had one goal.
In the opening game, polo fans took a trip down memory lane watching some of polo's greats including former 10-goaler Carlos Gracida and former 9-goalers Julian and Howard Hipwood in the Legends of Polo game.
With Grand Champions Gray leading, 5-3, with 2:47 left in the game, Grand Champions Blue came back with goals from Joey Casey and Juan Bollini to end the game in a 5-5 tie.
Brit Howard Hipwood was named Most Valuable Player. His team featured his brother Julian, Carlos Gracida and his cousin Ruben Gracida. Hector Gallindo and Peter Rizzo joined Casey and Bollini on the Grand Champions Gray team.
Carlos Gracida led the Gray team with three goals and Julian and Howard Hipwood each had one goal. Galindo led with three goals and Casey and Bollini added one apiece. "I wasn't concentrating on the game because I was having too much fun," said Carlos Gracida. "We want a rematch."
Grand Champions ended its fall season in grand style with lavish white tents lining both sides of the field, an array of international flags hanging from flagpoles that could be seen from Lake Worth Road, a dance floor in the VIP tent, music and DJ, tailgaters with buckets of champagne and Argentine food truck Che Grill.
Added Rizzo, USPA executive director: "Grand Champions has really taken off. I think Marc and Melissa Ganzi really wanted to do everything the right way, doing these international matches and so much more. We need more people like that. There are so few people that have that kind of interest in the sport. They have so many great players and look at the facility they set up. It's all for everybody to come enjoy. How many times do you see this around the world? We are very lucky and all of this is the expression of what they want to do in polo."
The biggest winner of the day was the Museum of Polo and Hall of Fame in Lake Worth. Proceeds from the doubleheader went to the museum which is in the midst of expanding. It is the only polo museum of its kind in the world.
The museum is dedicated to fostering an appreciation of the development, history and tradition of the sport of polo by collecting, preserving, exhibiting and interpreting its collections as well as honoring those who have made outstanding contributions to the sport.