For decades the name Mariano Aguerre has been synonymous with the East Coast Open—especially the final. He has no idea how many ECOs he has won, but if you ask for a guess, he shrugs his shoulders and says, “Maybe seven or eight?”
Nope. This Sunday, even if he doesn’t know it, the Museum of Polo Hall of Famer is gunning for his eleventh ECO title. Last year he propelled White Birch, his home team for 30 years, to an ECO victory over defending champion Audi. This season he’s wearing an Audi jersey, as White Birch is not in the tournament.
That gives GSA plenty to ponder when they face Audi in the final. Aguerre has garnered two U.S. Open and eight Gold Cup wins since he arrived in Greenwich, Connecticut, as an Argentine teenager. Among the handful of players in the world to achieve a 10 handicap, he is presently rated at 9. An opponent in the ECO described him as “one of the greatest all-time players in the U.S.”
While Aguerre can be counted on to score from the field, he also has profound ways of controlling the game in less apparent ways. Season stats for 2017 show he has shot 100 percent from the penalty line and is #1 in throw-in wins with 89 total (compared to 46 for GSA player Matias Magrini, ranked #2).
That’s all well and good, but as Aguerre acknowledged, stats and rankings could go out the window when it comes to Sunday’s showdown. “A final is a final, and anyone can win,” he said Friday evening. That is particularly so this year in the ECO, he added. “Usually you know the two or three favorites. If you told me before the tournament how even it was going to be, I wouldn’t have believed you. This wasn’t the year to be putting percentages on who would win.”
As it turned out GSA and Audi both won their semis comfortably (GSA def Postage Stamp Farm 13-9; Audi def Hublot 10-7). GSA, a first-timer in the ECO, was largely underestimated. They may have an edge in the final, given their undefeated record that started with a sound 16-12 win over Audi on opening day. GSA starts Sunday’s game with three goals on the board because they are rated at 17 in the 20-goal tournament.
TEAM SNAPSHOT: GSA
GSA’s youthful contingent of Henry Porter (1 goal), Santino Magrini (3) and Toro Ruiz (5) is ultra-strong, and they have all been performing above their handicaps. Porter, a solid presence on the field, is tied for #1 in number of field goals (11) and tied for #4 in number of total goals (also 11) in the tournament. Ruiz, a complete player who both scores and defends, ranks #1 in total goals scored (17). Sixteen-year-old Santino Magrini’s handicap went up three goals in the past three years. He and Ruiz have shot 100 percent on their penalty 2s in the ECO.
All three are good team players; they are obedient and take direction well from Matias Magrini. The veteran 8-goaler, a U.S. Open MVP, is strong on the ball and a superb general who rounds GSA into a cohesive team. (An opponent described GSA as “a 17-goal team that plays like a 20-goal team. They have all the shots and good horses.”)
TEAM SNAPSHOT: AUDI
Audi is a venerable, long-established team and multiple ECO winner. They lost Nick Manifold to an injury in this year’s opening game, but his replacement, young Francisco Mera, a 4-goaler, has carried his weight. Seven-goaler Mariano Gonzalez, who played for Travieso in the 2017 U.S. Open, averaged 5.4 goals per game and had a 75% shooting record from the penalty line. In the ECO he is ranked #2 in total goals scored (15). Chris Brant, handicapped at A, rounds out the Audi roster.
Despite the team’s wide range of handicaps, each Audi player has contributed to the scoreboard, and in some games remarkably evenly. In their win over Postage Stamp Farm, Audi’s scoring was spread among Brant (four goals), Aguerre and Gonzalez (three apiece), and Mera (two).
Audi knows how to pour it on. They steamrolled Postage Stamp Farm in the first leg of their game, taking a five-goal lead at halftime. In their match against Hublot, Audi scored nine unanswered goals in a sustained stretch of three-and-a-half chukkers. Clearly Audi has been building momentum leading up to the final. And of course, they have Mariano Aguerre—enough said.
The 2017 East Coast Open is presented by Greenwich Polo Club in partnership with Audi of America and its 29 Tri-State Audi Dealers. Games are live streamed on the USPA Polo Network: uspolo.org/video. The final takes place at 3 p.m. EST at Greenwich on field 1. The Tommy B. Glynn Subsidiary Cup takes place at 11 a.m. on field 2 (Hublot vs. Postage Stamp Farm).
Photos by Marcelo Bianchi and Chichi Ubina