Climbing the USL Ladder: 5 Players Who Could Make the Jump to the Championship in 2022 (Pt.2)

Coming into this series, I swore to myself that I, a Triumph fan, wouldn’t write about any Greenville players until we got roster news. With no roster news, I simply cannot write about players leaving without feeling sad. You know what doesn’t make me sad? Writing about Union Omaha players leaving (I kid, I kid)! So that’s what I’m going to do! In all seriousness, the second player on my list is one that I feel pretty confident in, even without roster news from Union Omaha. This guy has been a hot commodity since he arrived in the USL and his motivation to reach the top will inevitably make him a feared goalscorer no matter what level he plays. If you haven’t figured out who I’m talking about yet, it’s none other than the Scottish striker phenom, Greg Hurst.

Striker: Greg Hurst

Greg’s journey to the USL has been a fascinating one that included stops in the Scottish third division, the English Premier League, and the Scottish Premiership. I found a fascinating article about his story and if you want to read that, you can click here. Eventually, his footballing journey brought him to the United States when he signed for the Chattanooga Red Wolves in August 2019. Greg had a good stint with Chattanooga scoring 10 goals across 21 total appearances. Upon the end of his contract in 2020, it seemed like Hurst was already getting looks from the Championship before he decided to line up at Union Omaha for 2021. Greg was instrumental to the success that Union Omaha achieved this season, with 16 total goal contributions. Coming off another great year, there are sure to be A LOT of people clamoring for his signature and Union Omaha will be in for a fight if they want to keep the Scottish half of their star striking duo. Let’s take a look at what makes Greg Hurst such a good candidate for the Championship.

Union Omaha’s defense was suffocating this year, allowing 23 goals (the best in L1 by 9) and it’s largely down to how organized Union Omaha were front to back. Greg led the league in possession won in the final third this season, averaging almost 1 dangerous turnover per game (turning two of those into goals), more than any other striker in the league. Out of possession this season, Greg was an essential cog in the Omaha unit. PWF3 doesn’t even begin to tell the whole story about Greg’s ability off the ball. He was constantly a thorn in the side of opposing defenders, whether in the first phase of build up or in moments of recycling the ball to defenders. Union Omaha didn’t always operate with a high octane High press, but their pressing structure was incredibly efficient and tactically sound. The strike duo’s press was never for the sake of pressing, rather their pressing triggers kept them in smart positions to put the ball in areas Omaha felt were advantageous. Greg’s ability to use his cover shadow to prevent balls through the lines and switches of play helped Omaha force teams on the back foot. Greg is the right sided striker in the GIF below.

This GIF is a little simplistic and doesn’t show how the entire defensive structure moves in these instances, but it conveys what I see in the front line. Omaha are good about denying space to players who drop in to receive the ball via the two strikers tightening up. Greg’s job in this system is to sit a bit higher and deny switches of play. Here you see the emphasis on denying space to the midfielder that’s dropped in as well as working to deny or limit switches of play.

Their pressing structure was instrumental in how they moved into their low block in the final third, giving them time to get set up as the opponent progressed down the field. Greg generally was the highest positioned player in their low block, always ready to shift into the attack and make himself available to help the team transition quickly. This positioning made Omaha incredibly dangerous on the break. His ability to help his team make quick transitions is a huge reason Omaha were able to feel so comfortable without the ball.

What made Greg truly dangerous is his ability to find space out of nothing and a score. A big reason for this is how unpredictable he is due to the fact that he is lethal with both feet. There’s not much showing this guy onto his weak foot, scoring 8 with his right foot and 5 with his left (1 header). Greg’s 16 goal contributions this season put him among the elite strikers in the league, tying with Lomis for second place. This man was on fire this season (maybe auditioning for a step up?), absolutely crushing his xG (along with Evan Conway). In a team in which Ten different players put the ball in the back of the net, this wasn’t necessary. Greg decided to show out anyways.

Every L1 striker who took more than 30 shots has their goal scoring output measured against their xG. when Greg took his shots, he was expected to score around ten based on the ability of the average striker in the league to score from the positions he took up. He scored 14.

Greg is a lethal striker with a point to prove. His love for the game underlines the sheer talent that runs through his veins (and feet/brain). Greg supposedly had Championship teams looking at him last year, and he followed that up this year by putting everyone on notice that he’s ready. Greg himself holds high standards, stating in an interview that his end goal in the US is the MLS. On his current trajectory, that’s not at all out of the realm of possibility. If Omaha are able to keep him for another year, I’d be amazed at the pull they have to keep a player like Greg (waiting for this statement to bite me in the butt later). Coming off a 1st place finish and L1 title, Greg’s stock is HIGH and we’ll likely see someone make a move for him this off-season.

Likelihood of an upward move: 4.5/5, unless he doesn’t. (again: that’s how my rating system works, get over it)

UPDATE: He did it! Off to Phoenix Rising. They’re getting a great player with HUGE ambition and a bright future.

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