After a midweek game to forget in which Phoenix Rising gave seven academy players their professional debuts in a 7-0 loss, Phoenix was back to a preferred 11 for their game against Hartford Athletic over the weekend. A healthy defensive line let Kevon Lambert move back into the midfield and Santi Moar paired with Marcus Epps on the flanks.
There was arguably no bigger inclusion, however, than Greg Hurst at the striker spot.
Hurst has five goals to his name this year and is in the 88th percentile for expected assists and the 87th percentile in my Goals Above Replacement statistic. Fittingly, Hurst nabbed the winner in Connecticut in the 37th minute. On the play, he prowled around the box, waiting to pounce on a loose ball before finding the back of the net. Hurst was impactful in every facet of the game even beyond that scoring moment. The 25-year-old totaled three shots, but he also added three chance creations and two clearances on defensive set pieces. Off the stat sheet, his smart movement in transition and deft positioning around the goal created tons of space for his Rising teammates.
Hurst is the real deal – and he represents a key proof of concept for the League One-to-Championship pipeline in the USL. This season, the Phoenix striker rates as the second-best player to make the move up from the third tier. Aaron Molloy, a box-to-box dynamo for surprise juggernaut Memphis 901 FC, leads the class, which is pictured in its entirety here:
There are a number of important Championship contributors in this group of former League One players.
Charlie Dennis is the engine for Oakland’s offense. He starts on the right wing, working off of Edgardo Rito’s ceaseless overlapping to place in at least the 80th percentile in the league for xA, crosses completed, and fouls drawn. Evan Conway, a San Diego Loyal winger who moved from title-winning Union Omaha in League One, is crucial to his team’s tendency to push from a defensive 4-4-2 into an attacking 3-4-3; he’s the extra forward that also tracks into the midfield to defend. Even Dallas Jaye, shown last, makes an impact for Monterey. He’s allowed just two goals on 25 shots in back-to-back wins against Louisville and Colorado Springs.
Coming off of a week where Union Omaha advanced into the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open Cup, it’s clear that USL League One has its fair share of talented players. Many of those players have made their mark in the Championship this season.
As time goes on, this trend is sure to continue. Let’s not forget, we’re getting a clear picture of it right now in Phoenix. Hurst is lethal at the business end of the Rising attack and he shows how smart cross-league transactions can help USL teams find success.