Defending Champions Audi took to the field at the Greenwich Polo Club in Greenwich, Connecticut, for the final of the 2016 East Coast Open (ECO) on Sunday, 11 September. Audi’s opponent, the historically dominant White Birch with 11 ECO titles to their name, were eager to reclaim their trophy. The significance of the historic day was not lost on the crowd. Flags were raised at half-mast and an honorary parade of the Second Company Governor’s Horse Guard paid tribute to lives lost in the tragedy of 9/11. Both teams entered the final with an undefeated record and a thrilling match pursued.
Audi dominated the first half winning the majority of the bowl-ins, including the first. A swift pass from Sebastian Merlos to Nic Roldan gave Audi the opening goal of the match and initiated a wave of Audi goals. A backshot goal from Leo Mandelbaum followed by another goal from Roldan, widened Audi’s lead to three. In the final minutes of the first chukka, White Birch was able to get on the board with a penalty 4 conversion by Hilario Ulloa. Audi continued their unrelenting assault in the second chukka with three unanswered goals, including a coast-to-coast run by Ganzi. Third chukka play began with a penalty conversion from Merlos, his second goal of the game, followed by a goal from the field by Roldan. Firing on all cylinders in the first two minutes of the third, Audi increased their lead 8-1 over White Birch. A second goal for White Birch came from Mariano Aguerre. Two more penalty conversions by Ulloa, set White Birch up for a steady comeback, the score now 9-4 at the half.
White Birch regrouped after halftime and returned with a new strategy and fierce determination. In a role reversal, White Birch scored three unanswered goals; two by Ulloa and one from Santino Magrini to pull them within two goals (9-7). White Birch capitalized on a series of penalties in the fifth, outscoring Audi again, to close the gap by one going into the sixth and final chukka. Ulloa scored his eighth goal of the game, Merlos in pursuit, to tie it up for the first time since the game began with four and a half minutes left in play. A minute later Merlos converted a penalty 5 and Audi took back the lead. A penalty 3 against Audi, with a little over a minute left in play, gave White Birch another chance to tie. Ulloa with his consistent penalty shooting sent the ball high and through the uprights tying it back up. With approximately 45 seconds on the clock, Peter Brant suffered an injury behind the play as Audi came through with a breakaway and near miss. With 32 seconds left in regulation play, Justin Daniels the recent 2016 National Youth Tournament Series Champion for Zone 3, mounted up to substitute for Brant. A few seconds back into play, Audi was awarded a penalty 5 from the spot, but it was cleared out by White Birch. Daniels on a breakaway to goal, ran out of time and for the second consecutive year the ECO went into overtime.
Both teams missed opportunities for the win as they desperately sought to garner the sudden death overtime goal. On a clearing backshot by Roldan near mid field was intercepted by the mallet of Magrini as the 15-year-old scored a skillful open backshot to goal to seize the victory for White Birch 12-11. When asked about his final goal of the game Magrini stated, “I don’t know, I just closed my eyes and hit the ball.”
In an incredible déjà-vu overtime re-match White Birch re-captured the Perry Trophy. “We knew that if we kept on playing the running and hitting game we were going to get killed. We decided we would not release the ball until one of our men were free. We had bad luck last year, but we had good luck this year. Last year we probably should have won and we lost, this year we probably should have lost and we won,” said 9-goaler Aguerre.
Most Valuable Player was awarded to Audi’s Nic Roldan. Best Playing Pony was presented to Los Machitos Versuit owned and played by White Birch’s Mariano Aguerre in the fifth chukka.
NBC Sports Network will rebroadcast the East Coast Open Finals on 17 September at 3.00 pm ET.
White Birch (20)
Peter Brant (1)
Santino Magrini (1)
Hilario Ulloa (9)
Mariano Aguerre (9)
Marc Ganzi (1)
Leo Mandelbaum (2)
Nic Roldan (8)
Sebastian Merlos (9)
Photos © United States Polo Association