Casablanca Captures USPA North American Cup; Mike Azzaro Named Most Valuable PlayerIn a wild game to the finish, Casablanca won the coveted USPA North American Cup with a hardfought 11-9 victory over Audi Sunday at Grand Champions Polo Club.
By Sharon RobbIn front of a packed house and worldwide ChukkerTV and USPA Polo Network audience, Casablanca (Grant Ganzi, 2, Juancito Bollini, 3, Mike Azzaro, 6, Julio Arellano, 8) and Audi (Guille Aguero, 5, Brandon Phillips, 5, Marc Ganzi, 2, Carlucho Arellano, 5) turned in one of the most physically-contested and closest finals of the fall season.
Winning Casablanca team with awards presenter USPA CEO Bob Puetz.
"That was a very physical tough game," Arellano said. "I knew it would be a tougher game than the other day, but not that much. Everybody wanted to win and that's what happens.
"Winning one of the 20-goal tournaments here is always awesome. It was a step up. They were a good team so I was very happy."
Casablanca teammates Julio Arellano, Mike Azzaro, Juancito Bollini, Grant Ganzi. Photo by ChukkerTV
It was the third tournament victory for Casablanca, making its fifth championship finals appearance this season. Casablanca also won the US Trust Cup and USPA Fall Classic. It was Casablanca's second USPA North American Cup title in tournament history.
"We expected that kind of game but I think we were prepared," Bollini said. "This is a big win for us. It's always a big win when I play with Grant.
Audi teammates Carlucho Arellano, Marc Ganzi, Brandon Phillips and Guille Aguero. Photo by ChukkerTV
"It was probably not the best game to watch because there were a lot of fouls but it was intense. We had three really good chukkers and they had three really good chukkers. But when the moments were tough I think we were the ones that ended up with the key plays."
Legendary Hall of Famer and former 10-goaler Mike Azzaro was named Most Valuable Player. The field general was clutch down the stretch and scored the go-ahead goal in the sixth chukker for a 10-9 lead.
The stage is set for the USPA North American Cup final."This is an enormous win for us," Azzaro said. "I have won this a few times over the years but it's nice to win today. Grant, Juancito and I have been winning pretty much every tournament and playing well together.
"Twenty-goal polo is different than 12-goal," Azzaro said. "We really did earn this. You really have to have the team clicking well to dominate. On Friday we had a hard game and it took a lot out of the horses. To come back today it was difficult. We really had to be disciplined and mark them tight."
Best Playing Pony Antojo, a 12-year-old gelding owned by Guille Aguero.
Antojo, a 12-year-old gelding owned and ridden by Aguero, was selected Best Playing Pony by the tournament committee.
Audi started out with a 2-0 lead based on handicap which Casablanca quickly made up in the first four minutes of the game. With the score tied 2-2 with goals from Julio Arellano and Grant Ganzi, Audi took a brief lead, 3-2, on Phillips' goal with 3:08 left in the first chukker. Arellano tied the game to end the first chukker at 3-3.
Brandon Phillips of Audi follows up his hit downfield.
Back-to-back goals from Bollini gave Casablanca a 5-3 lead but Audi came right back in a rainy second chukker slowing the game and taking Casablanca out of its rhythm and trailed only 5-4 on another Phillips goal.
"It was a good game," Arellano said. "We started off well, then they played well in the middle chukkers and then we were able to get our rhythm back at the end."
The lead changed hands nine times as the physicality and intensity increased along with missed scoring opportunities, both from the field and penalty line, by both teams. By the fourth chukker, both teams missed a combined eight penalty shots.
Juancito Bollini of Casablanca hits the ball out of the air with Brandon Philips defending.
"Those guys are mounted really well," Azzaro said. "They are three solid experienced players and Marc fights for everything, keep his guys together and contributes on the field. They had a strong team."
Azzaro quickly recovered from a fifth-chukker tumble when his horse stumbled at the 2:28 mark. He broke a 9-9 tie early in the sixth chukker on a nice run to goal after a steal. Arellano scored an insurance goal on a penalty-three with 3:03 left.
Carlucho Arellano of Audi reaches for the ball defended by Julio Arellano of Casablanca.
At 19, Grant Ganzi won his third North American Cup title. Last year he won with Flexjet teammates Jason Crowder, Nic Roldan and Jared Sheldon. Three years ago, he won the title with Casablanca teammates Kris Kampsen, Sheldon and Roldan.
"It was a big win no doubt, we had to fight for everything," Grant Ganzi said. "We wanted to use everyone, hit the ball and make it simple. But they got us a little rattled and took us out of our game.
Grant Ganzi of Casablanca pursues Carlucho Arellano while Marc Ganzi defends.
"Audi played really well and had a good game plan. They were countering what we were doing and that's what good game plans do. They threw us off our plan for a while. Juan and I had to work a lot more than we had been. Today was anyone's game. I never felt we were out of it. I always felt like we were there but it was tough."
In the semifinals, Casablanca advanced with a 13-9 win over Goose Creek (Maureen Brennan, 1, Kris Kampsen, 6, Mariano Gonzalez, 7, Luis Escobar, 5) and Audi advanced with an 11-6 victory over defending tournament champion Flexjet (Melissa Ganzi, 0, Jason Crowder, 6, Tincho Merlos, 9, Juan Bollini, 5) in a rematch of last year's final.
Juancito Bollini of Casablanca goes to hook Carlucho Arellano of Audi.
On Sunday, Casablanca got balanced scoring from its players. Arellano had four goals, Azzaro scored three and Bollini and Ganzi each had two goals. For Audi, Phillips led scoring with four goals and Aguero added three. Audi was also awarded two goals on handicap.
Earlier in the day, in the Just For The Love Of It subsidiary game at Santa Rita Polo Farm's Buenos Aires Field, Goose Creek (Maureen Brennan, 1, Kris Kampsen, 6, Luis Escobar, 5, Mariano Gonzalez, 7) defeated Flexjet (Melissa Ganzi, 0, Jason Crowder, 6, Tincho Merlos, 9, Juan Bollini, 5), 6-3.
Marc Ganzi of Audi defending Mike Azzaro of Casablanca.
Escobar was named MVP. Kampsen led with two goals. Brennan, Escobar and Gonzalez each had one. Merlos led Flexjet scoring with two and Ganzi added one.
The USPA North American Cup has a rich tradition in history dating back to 1974. The tournament has been a mainstay in American and Canadian polo for decades at the 16 and 20-goal level. The inaugural winner was Tulsa with Hall of Famers John T. Oxley and Billy Linfoot, Corky Linfoot and Jim MacGinley. During the late 1990s and early 2000s Calgary Polo Club hosted the tournament. The tournament has been held at Grand Champions since 2011.
MVP Mike Azzaro of Casablanca keeps his eye on the ball.
Casablanca, founded by polo players who understand the needs of today's polo players, supplies a wide variety of polo products, equipment and apparel through superior quality, value and service around the world. Behind the Casablanca brand is a serious pledge to quality, excellence and elegance.
Rated No. 1 by Consumer Reports as the best auto brand overall, Audi is a valued sponsor with a rich winning tradition in polo. The German automobile manufacturer designs, engineers, produces, markets and distributes luxury automobiles throughout the world including West Palm Beach.
A packed house witnessed the final of the USPA North American Cup.Photo by ChukkerTV
The USPA North American Cup was the fifth tournament of the season and first of two 20-goal tournaments Grand Champions is hosting during the fall season. Grand Champions is also hosting the upcoming USPA National 20-Goal and Nov. 25 doubleheader with the Carlos Gracida Memorial Legends of Polo and International Cup pitting five-time defending champion Team USA against Brazil. Sponsorship packages are available and tickets are on sale.
The first four tournament winners were: Audi, which defeated Casablanca, 11-10, in overtime to win the Tackeria Invitational; Casablanca in the US Trust Cup and USPA Fall Classic; and Sebucan knocked off Casablanca to win the USPA Fall Plates.
The coveted USPA North American Cup trophy.Photos by Sheryel Aschfort.