HEARTBREAKER: USA settles for silver in International play.

Chile came from behind to defeat USA in overtime of the 10th Federation of International Polo World Championship held at the pristine San Cristobal Polo Club located in Santiago, Chile. The six teams, divided at random into two brackets, competed in the tournament, played from March 27-April 1 after rain delays.

In the United States’ first FIP Championship appearance since 1989, a determined American team, led by Coach Joel Baker, stormed through the first three matches of the tournament, their only loss on an overtime goal in the final match against Chile. The starting lineup, Remy du Celliee Muller, Jesse Bray, Felipe Viana and Patrick Uretz, impressed spectators and players alike with their classic style of polo, skillfully utilizing every member on the team throughout the tournament.

Brazil faced off against a strong Argentine team in the first day of the tournament, and secured its first win in a tightly fought match. The second game of the day saw the home Chilean team narrowly squeeze by England to record its first win.

In the second afternoon of play, Team USA got the ball rolling in its first match against Argentina, defeating the defending champions 11-10 in overtime. USA took a commanding lead at the start of the game, maintaining a twogoal lead throughout the first half. Argentina came back in the fourth chukker, rallying to tie the match, and proceeded to take the lead in the beginning of the fifth. Viana, on tournament Best Playing Pony, Pajarita, scored a deep neck shot to tie the score 10-10 in the last seconds of regulation play, sending the game into overtime.

Viana kept his scoring momentum going in the extra chukker, tapping the final goal in for Team USA. Teammate Bray scored an impressive six goals with Uretz adding an additional three goals to the tally. Following the game, Coach Baker praised his team, saying, “I am so proud of these guys. Not only did they beat them on the field, but had to come from behind to win in overtime. We are all very proud we sent the defending champs home.”

With less than 24 hours between games, USA focused their efforts on their match against Brazil. Bray and Uretz repeated their scoring streak, putting a combined nine goals on the board for the American team. Team USA controlled the first half of the game, leading the Brazilian team 5-1 at the end of the second chukker. Brazil answered back in the fourth chukker, bringing the score to within one goal, 7- 6. Brazil pushed forward early in the fifth chukker to tie the score 7-7. The United States team took control of the game, scoring two more points to end the match 9-7. Team USA emerged as the leader of the bracket with an undefeated record, placing them against England in the semifinal match for Bracket 2. Chile’s overtime win against Pakistan positioned the team to play Brazil in the Bracket 1 semifinal.

USA took the field by storm against England in a single elimination semifinal, leading the entire match. USA built their offensive attack in the first chukker, scoring four unanswered goals, and continued to push through the second chukker, leading by six goals 7-1. Bray, Viana, and Uretz each added to the tally to further the lead, 10-3.

England fought back, scoring six goals in the second half, but was unable to overcome the American team. Team USA defeated England 15-9, securing its spot in the 2015 FIP Championship game. In the other semifinal, Chile managed to overpower a strong Brazilian team, advancing to the final following a 11-10 win.

I am so excited for the guys. They just played their hearts out. They won, I think, 90 percent of the players they went to, they had their man, they were playing for each other,” said Coach Baker. “Our team has maintained a positive attitude throughout this world championship and it really showed today. Making it to the final is truly amazing.” Joel’s strategy of focusing on winning individual plays helped the team move on after any mistakes made on the field.

I could not be more proud of our USA team competing in the FIP World Championship in Chile,” said USPA CEO Peter Rizzo. “It took a superlative national effort on so many levels to remain undefeated at this stage of the competition.”

USA rode into the final match against Chile determined to continue their winning streak.

Uretz kicked the game off with the first goal of the match, followed by two penalty goals by Bray. A goal by Bray and Viana pushed the USA ahead 5-2 at the half. Chile returned from half time with a strong offensive strategy, scoring four goals in the fourth chukker. Muller won the ball out of the lineup and scored to tie the score, 6-6. The American players regained the lead in the fifth chukker, scoring three goals to a single goal by Chile, 9-7. In the last lineup of regulation time, MVP Felipe Vercellino stole the ball and scored a quick goal to send the game into overtime. Mario Silva backed the winning goal in to end the game 11-10.

This was an incredibly challenging game and Chile was a tremendous competitor on the field. The USPA is exceedingly proud of how Team USA played and represented our country as great players and sportsmen,” said Rizzo. The young team was heartbroken after controlling the majority of the game. “It was a tough way to lose, we had them, and it didn’t end the way we anticipated,” said Bray.

Remy Muller was named Sportsmen of the tournament. Jesse Bray led the scoring throughout the tournament, finishing with a total of 24 goals. The USPA chose the seven members of Team USA from a roster of 61 Team USPA members. Remy du Celliee Muller, Felipe Viana, Patrick Uretz, Jesse Bray, Cody Ellis, Will Tankard, and Mason Wroe trained in Wellington, Florida during March, playing 14- to 18- goal polo at the International Polo Club and Grand Champions Polo Club. Bray, Uretz, and Viana were members of the undefeated team who played in the FIP Zone Championship in December.

Deserved recognition

As most of you have heard, our USA Team brought home silver medals in the FIP World Cup, losing 12-11 in overtime in a thrilling polo match to the hometown team of Chile. The Chilean supporters outnumbered our U.S. contingent by 5,000 to 10.

The last time the USA team was in the final of the FIP World Championship was 1989. What you may not have heard, and what I would like to share with you, is the rest of the story and why, as a member of the USPA, you should be very proud of what this team of young men and the support staff around them accomplished for the U.S. Polo Association. They all deserve a thank you.

In the first game, the USA Team played classic, open polo and beat Argentina, who was in a win-or-go-home scenario. Coach Joel Baker was a master at working with the team and it showed. Most thought the match would be difficult at best. The next day USA played Brazil, and beat them as well. Both games were won due to our team's discipline, training and horsemanship under Joel’s leadership. In the semi-finals, USA handily beat the English team setting up the championship against Chile.

Comments I received from all the teams and FIP representatives were extremely positive about our team and the players' attitudes and professionalism on and off the field. Everyone expressed how well prepared the USA Team was.

Remy Muller received a sportsmanship award after stopping to help a competitor pick up his mallet in the middle of play. After every game, our players dismounted the horses on the field and loosened the girths to walk them back to the pony line. No other team did this on these borrowed horses.

Everyone I spoke with said the USA matches were the best polo they have seen in a very long time. I heard comments like: They really play as a team; You can tell these guys have really worked hard getting ready; This is the best team polo we've seen, I wish we could go back to this instead of the tap, tap stuff; It's amazing what the USA has done to their polo program; and We need to do this back home.

I was informed that after we sent Argentina home, an article in the Argentine press said Argentina needs to have a program like the USA has.

Approximately six years ago, the board of the U.S. Polo Association decided we needed to support our American players. We passed the American rule and then, more importantly, put our money where our mouth was and decided to build a program to help young American players become skilled in the game with mentoring by some of our best high?goal players and other experts in the game.

What is interesting about each of the players is they previously had all been on championship teams in the USPA I/I. You could see their strong arena and horsemanship skills as they rode off their competitors. In addition, the USPA support staff worked tirelessly to develop and train the team This included the leadership of Charles Smith, Kris Bowman and Bob Puetz, along with support from the USPA Umpires LLC, the USPA Marketing LLC and Polo Development LLC staffs. It paid off. Even the three players who did not play helped the on?field players with horse selection and support during the game and gave insights to the players during and after the game.

Since the start of the World Championships, USA only placed one time in the top three medal positions and that was in 1989 when it won it. Four of the years it did not even qualify. Out of 10 championships, Argentina placed in the top three seven times and won it four times. Brazil placed in the top three eight out of 10 times and won it three times. Chile placed in the top three four times and this is its second win.

USA eliminated Argentina and beat Brazil in the toughest bracket. Our only loss in the entire tournament (including the zone playoffs) was in OT in the final. Even though USA didn't bring home the gold, it was one overtime goal away from first place. The team's record speaks for its (our) amazing success.

I suggest that you reach out to the players and say Thank You for taking time out of their Florida and California polo schedules to work with Coach Baker to represent the USPA board, our membership and the clubs of the U.S. Polo Association.

I am very proud of this team. The final score does not reflect what happened in Chile. The old saying,

 

By Hayley Heatley • Photos by Alejandro Rustom and Ernesto Zelada/Xpress Media

 
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