Late acquisition Grana outshining FC Dallas’ big-money winter buys

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The Argentine wasn't the Supporters' Shield champion's first choice at right back but has adapted to the league more quickly than other additions

FRISCO, Texas — FC Dallas was all set this offseason at a position of need.

Just a few weeks after an earlier-than-expected exit from the MLS playoffs, the team signed right back Jose Salvatierra. He looked like a perfect fit, an experienced Costa Rican international who at 27 could still give the team several years of production.

Looks were deceiving, though, with the team forced to part ways with Salvatierra in late January after he failed a physical, reportedly because of concerns about his right knee. 

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The team announced Grana's arrival during preseason training in Argentina, where FCD was getting ready for the CONCACAF Champions League. It almost seemed as though he was called in off the road. "Hey buddy! You play right back, right?"

Of course, plenty more research and connections went into bringing the 32-year-old back for his second stint in MLS. FCD has deep ties to Argentina, with Grana part of a four-man contingent of players from the land where people sip mate through a metal straw and call each other "vos" and "che." He joined FCD after spending time with Ferro Carril Oeste, boyhood club of strength and conditioning coach Fabian Bazan.

Partly because of the somewhat abrupt arrival, Grana was the least-touted of FCD's offseason acquisitions. But his performance in a 1-1 draw with New York Ctiy FC on Sunday was the latest piece of evidence he's been the best.

NYCFC loves to attack on the left but found little reason to smile as Rodney Wallace and Ben Sweat were continually cut off by Grana.

"In general the league has really good left wingers, really fast and with experience," Grana told Goal. "Today we faced a really good team. From midfield forward they’re really good. Really good. And we played well."

Hernan Grana FC Dallas David Villa New York City FC

The NYCFC goal came from a David Villa set piece that pinged off the crossbar and down for Thomas McNamara to head in. For Grana, the set piece was the only way NYCFC was going to score.

The Quilmes native has tried to get acclimated to MLS before, playing seven games with the Columbus Crew in 2015 before leaving and citing homesickness. In FCD, he's found a home not only because of the fellow South Americans who surround him but because of the familial atmosphere in the locker room.

"Since I arrived I’ve felt very comfortable, very happy. Now the family is here, truthfully I’m even happier," he said. "With the team, I think it’s a good team and there are great people not only within the team but also around it. The kit man, and more, the masseuse. There’s a group of people here who are important, good people helping the team move forward.

"I think on the field we’re humble, all working for each other. This is important. We faced a strong team today with David Villa, who is a star player, and we played well but couldn’t get an important victory."

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That humility is a virtue surprisingly important for his adaptation to the league. NYCFC coach Patrick Vieira cited that as the most important thing for a player coming into MLS to possess for success.

"I think when you come into MLS, you have to be humble. I think you have to respect the league and not take it for granted. I think this is a good start," said Vieira, speaking generally in his post-match news conference. "Then, of course, as a football club we have a responsibility to understand that they are here to compete, to work hard for the team and give the best for the team. If you managed to do that, I think we can manage to get the best of the players."

Roland Lamah FC Dallas Maxime Chanot New York City FC

Grana's own coach sees that attitude in his right back, who struggled to cope with speedy left wingers in both legs of Dallas' CONCACAF Champions League series defeat to Pachuca but has since proved up to the task against some of MLS' finest attackers.

"Hernan is coming along, not just adapting to the team but adapting to the league," Pareja said. "There are certain plays where he’s understanding that it’s a physical league, it’s a fast league. I think he’s adjusting pretty well."

Pareja and his staff have become known for taking diamonds in the South American rough and polishing them up, but not all the team's winter acquisitions are shining as brightly as Grana. Roland Lamah, the team's second highest-paid player according to salary data from the MLS Players Union, and Cristian Colman, a forward for whom the team paid the biggest transfer fee in its history, each are looking for their first MLS goal. Anibal Chala, a young defender who FCD signed to a designated player deal this winter, was last week loaned to a club in his native Ecuador after struggling with injuries.

But the Colombian coach is hardly giving up on those players, expressing faith that they too will find their place in the puzzle and fit in as Grana has done.

"Cristian is creating the options. I’ve got to give him all the credit because it’s not easy to create all the options and he’s doing it in a very natural way," Pareja said. "We have to keep training, we have to keep waiting and I will.

"Roland as well. They’re doing the right things on the training ground, I have to tell you that. They're very responsible and they’re jelling with the group and understanding what it takes to be an FC Dallas player. ... We have to wait until they find the net. They need to, and we'll wait."

There's no need for patience for Grana, though. The late acquisition has come through and turned a position of need into a place where Pareja has confidence.  

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