Not all that long ago, Montreal Impact defender Luis Binks was an academy defender at Tottenham Hotspur. He'd occasionally be called into first-team training to provide necessary bodies in drills and scrimmages. He knew Victor Wanyama, but they kept to their respective camps.
It took both players crossing an ocean for Wanyama to offer a helping hand, and for Binks to feel comfortable taking it.
"It's hard to get used to at the start," said Binks, an 18-year-old from Gillingham who arrived in Montreal from Spurs in mid-February, two weeks before Wanyama signed as a Designated Player.
"When I was at my position (at Spurs), I was trying to get into his team, and maybe take his position, to try and get in front of him. But now he's come here, he's helped me a lot. He knows what it's like having to move away at a young age. And he done the same thing. He's sort of helped me in a lot of ways."
In that way and so many others, the surroundings of Binks' new footballing life are both strangely similar and starkly different from his old one, he told MLSsoccer.com in a phone interview Wednesday ahead of the Impact's opener Thursday against the New England Revolution (8 pm ET | TUDN, TSN) in Group C of the MLS is Back Tournament.
There's the empty, but nostalgic scenes surrounding the Swan and Dolphin Resort on the Disney grounds where Binks once took a family vacation as a middle-schooler. Five years ago this August, he even watched in the Citrus Bowl as Obafemi Martins' brace stole the show from teammate and former Spurs attacker Clint Dempsey, not to mention Orlando's resident Ballon d'Or winner Kaka.
"I definitely didn't think the next time I'd be coming back here would be to play football. It's all a bit surreal," Binks said. "It's got a weird type of vibe. If you'd come here anytime last year, you'd have people buzzing around, all these rides would be going."
Then there's the figures of Wanyama and manager (and former hated Arsenal foe) Thierry Henry, familiar from a childhood dreaming of going pro, yet foreign in the role of contemporary and coach. It's a respect Binks has earned by being good enough for a club to seek him out, rather than simply keep him in their academy.
"I think whatever club you're at, if you come through that system, it's very hard to drop the 'kid' title,'" Binks reflected. "Although I'm still a kid in this squad, I don't feel as though I'm treated or seen as a kid. I feel as though the other pros look at me and try and help me like they would any other player."
In Henry's system, Binks also sees a fit that at Tottenham wasn't there. While the Impact certainly played pragmatically in their opening handful of competitive matches before the COVID-19 pandemic halted the season, they also prioritized the ball.
"Managers I've had before want me to play deeper, whereas [Henry] wants me to play higher. He wants me to play out from the back whereas managers before have wanted me to play long all the time," he said. "I'd much rather prefer playing out. I look at myself being more of a ball-playing center back. So it definitely suits me, the way we play here."
Even the doors closed to fans MLS is Back remind Binks of his former role for the Spurs Premier League 2 squad, an Olympic-age competition. It is something he knows won't change immediately, but like the rest of us, hopes will soon.
"To come here and play in front of crowds of 30,000-40,000 is definitely something that can bring me on as a person and a player," Binks said. "If I make mistakes, I learn from them, because you're more likely to learn from a mistake here in this league because it's a big league, it's crucial. If you make a mistake in the reserves, you've got 20 people watching and it don't matter."
"Hopefully my development can come in leaps and bounds out here. Hopefully I can have a good year."