Westchester Cup Goes to England, 10-9
By Alex Webbe
The United States Polo Team made no excuses for its 10-9 loss to England Saturday afternoon at the International Polo Club in Wellington, but they well could have.
In an unfortunate turn of events, 9-goal superstar Mike Azzaro suffered a broken collarbone just 48-hours before the playing of poloâ€™s oldest and most prestigious polo competition, and was scratched from the lineup.
â€œI didnâ€™t think we had a chance with Mike (Azzaro) in the lineup,â€ said Javier Astrada, Englandâ€™s coach. â€œI was hoping that if he played we could just keep it close,â€ said the 9-goal Argentinean who had coached England for the past three years.
But that wasnâ€™t the case. Azzaro was sidelined and 8-goaler Jeff Hall was brought in to fill out the team. Without the benefit of a practice, the US team took the field against a talented and well-rehearsed English team.
â€œWe started out quite well,â€ said English 7-goaler James Beim. â€œWe split chukkers on our good horses in the opening chukkers,â€ he said, â€œso that we might bring them back in the latter part of the game, and it seemed to work.â€
England received one goal by handicap from the 30-goal American team, and drew first blood with a penalty shot conversion by Mark Tomlinson for a 2-0 lead. Nick Roldan answered for the United States with a penalty conversion of his own before Beim added a goal from the field to give England a 3-1 advantage.
Roldan scored two more goals on penalty shots in the second chukker, but goals from Mark Tomlinson and brother Luke kept England in front with a 5-3 advantage.
Third chukker scoring was limited to a penalty conversion by Luke Tomlinson and a goal from the field from Jeff Hall as the teams left the field with England leading 6-4.
â€œWe werenâ€™t getting any push up front from our lineup,â€ said US team coach Owen Rinehart, â€œso we changed things around a bit. We moved Jeff Hall into the Number 2 position and put Nick (Roldan) at Back.â€
The changes agreed with the Americans. Jeff Blake scored the first goal of the fourth chukker on a pass from Jeff Hall, followed by a goal from Hall to tie the game at 6-6.
Mark Tomlinson scored to give the English a 7-6 lead, but Roldan displayed dazzling stick work and ball control as he weaved his way through the opposing players to knot it up at 7-7 to end the chukker.
After two scoreless minutes of the fifth chukker, Jeff Blake broke loose and scored on a long pass from Roldan to give the US its first lead of the game. England took control of the following throw-in and raced down the field to even it at 8-8 on a goal from Luke Tomlinson. Roldan scored his fifth goal of the game to give the lead back to the Americans, but a penalty conversion by Luke Tomlinson following a foul in the goal mouth had it all even at the end of the chukker, 9-9.
â€œI just told them to keep playing,â€ said Englandâ€™s coach, Javier Astrada. â€œI told them to be persistent, to hit the ball away, not to keep the ball or try to do anything clever with it,â€ he added.
The pace picked up in the final chukker with one team racing to one end of the field only to be turned away and then to race back. Hard riding and accurate passes kept the ball moving around the ground until in a melee in front of the US goal, James Beim tapped it through the goal for he 10-9 advantage.
â€œI wasnâ€™t sure if I scored or if Luke (Tomlinson) scored, â€œ said Beim, â€œbut Iâ€™ll happily take the credit,â€ he said with a smile.
The goal proved to be the game winner as a last minute rush by the Americans fell short
Nick Roldanâ€™s 9-year-old Argentine thoroughbred bay, Beijing, won Best Playing Pony honors while Englandâ€™s Luke Tomlinson was named MVP.