After defeating Grand Champions Polo Club in the first round of the $50,000 National 12-goal tournament at Grand Champions Polo Club in Wellington, Florida, Team USPA strategized for their next opponent GSA on March 12. Team USPA, Julia Smith (A), Nick Johnson (3), Felipe Viana (5) and Tomy Alberdi (4) knew the GSA squad Henry Porter (2), Santino Magrini (3), Torito Ruiz (5) and Nachi Viana (2) would challenge their every move on the field – forcing them to minimize any and all mistakes while also maintaining a strong offense.
All eight players held their opposition tight on defense at the onset of the match until a foul in favor of Team USPA opened up the scoring. The momentum quickly shifted to GSA scoring five more goals over the course of the first half creating a substantial lead 6-3 over Team USPA.
Team USPA remounted after halftime determined for a comeback. Offensive progress was slow and steady throughout the fourth and fifth chukker. Smith added Team USPA’s fourth goal of the match to the tally on a carefully placed backshot, bringing the team to within two goals of GSA 6-4. Scoring was evenly matched in the fifth with only one successful goal from the field by each team. Team USPA rallied in the sixth chukker of play, Alberdi scoring the tying goal on the nearside on one of his favorite horses, Torda, effectively pushing the game into overtime.
Team USPA quickly grabbed possession of the ball in the overtime period. However, a backshot from GSA found its way onto the mallet of Ruiz. He quickly carried the ball to the opposite side of the field, Felipe Viana in hot pursuit, and was able to set the ball up for Magrini to push it through the uprights. A final score 8-7, Team USPA succumbed to the fellow young up-and-comers of GSA giving them the opportunity to move forward in the single elimination tournament and another shot at the title.
Viana thanked Team USPA for the opportunity following the game, “Competing in the $50K was a great opportunity for all four of us to play against good players and good organizations in Wellington. It’s important for people to see that American players are investing in horses and continuing to improve our strings and our game. We improve every time we show up to the field, and we become stronger when we make it as a strong group of American players. Today, we kept [GSA] tight in the first chukker but lost the middle of the field in the second and third. Coming into halftime down by three is tough, but I think we reorganized well. We focused on ball possession and being more conservative with the ball in the second half. As a team, we worked our way up to tying the game but had an unlucky break in overtime.”
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 ©Shelley Heatley Photography