All Dustin Wasserman wanted was a headed goal by Portland Timbers midfielder Diego Chara.
“I love Chara and I was like, 'Man, wouldn't it be great if he got a header goal some day?'” Wasserman says. “This was years ago.”
Wasserman, a Portland Timbers fan who moved to Tokyo, Japan over a decade ago, had always wanted to make a video set to the tune of the Japanese song “Cha-la Head Cha-la” from the popular anime show Dragon Ball Z. When pronounced in Japanese, the main lyric sounds suspiciously like “Chara head Chara.”
Late last season, in a blowout victory against the LA Galaxy, Chara leaped into the air and headed home a Rodney Wallace cross to give the Timbers a 3-1 lead. That was all that Wasserman needed to finally make his video, “Chara Head Chara,” which garnered over 5,000 views on YouTube within the first 24 hours of its posting.
“Now I'm like, 'What else can I do?'” says Wasserman. “This is just too good to be true.”
Wasserman, however, might never have made the video or started his Tokyo-based supporters group, Tokyo Yosaku, had it not been for a serendipitous drive past Providence Park in 2011.
An Ashland, Ore. native and graduate of Portland State University, Wasserman was in town visiting friends and family when he and his father drove past Providence Park one afternoon. Struck by the banners around the stadium and realizing that the Timbers had finally joined MLS, he asked his father to stop the car.
“It was just instant, driving by the stadium...and stopping the car,” recalls Wasserman. “I just literally stopped the car, ran out into the [Timbers Team] store and bought everything.”
That afternoon, Wasserman found something he'd been looking for most of his adult life: a sports team that he could call his own, something that reminded him of the place he had once called home. After that drive, Wasserman began following the Timbers as much as he could from his home in Tokyo.
“While in Tokyo, it helps to figure out who you are when you have that connection to where you grew up...[with] the team there now,” he says of the importance of his support for the Timbers. “That all kind of fell into place, so it was easy for me [to say]: this is it; this is my team.”
But it wasn't enough for Wasserman to sit at home and watch matches alone on a Sunday morning. He wanted to bring his hometown support to the wider Tokyo community, a city that in recent years has embraced everything Portland, from Blue Star Donuts to Stumptown Coffee.
In order to receive recognition for his new group from the Timbers Army, however, Wasserman had to first come up with a name and a logo.
The enthusiastic Wasserman waffled between several potential names – “I was thinking something like Tokyo Tree Stubs [in Japanese],” he says – before his Japanese wife came to the rescue. She suggested “Yosaku,” a famous enka song by legendary performer Saburo Kitajima. It opens with the line: “Yosaku is cutting a tree.”
“Everyone in Japan knows that if you say 'Yosaku,'” explains Wasserman, “they'll finish your sentence with 'is cutting a tree.'”
Yet even with a catchy and culturally appropriate name and a cool logo, Wasserman still only had a supporters group of one. But he knew that if he could only find the right gathering spot, the fans – both new and old – would surely come.
Along came the aptly named PDX Taproom. The bar, owned and operated by a Japanese woman who had once lived in Portland, had everything that Wasserman wanted: the Portland memorabilia, the TVs, the Portland brews, and most importantly, the perfect name.
“She's got the carpet on the wall from PDX airport,” he says. “She's got that rendition of the sign that says 'Keep Portland Weird.' You come in there, it's like all this stuff. It feels like Portland.”
For the very first Timbers viewing party in March, Wasserman invited some of his Japanese friends to come out to the bar and watch, but the event also received some unexpected guests.
“All of a sudden these two people come in, full[ly] decked out in Portland gear and I just knew there were people like this hiding somewhere in Tokyo,” he says. “Kind of an 'if you build it, they will come' aspiration. When the two of them came I was like, 'Oh my God! This is exactly what I wanted to happen.'”
Building off the back of that auspicious start, the ambitious Wasserman hopes to continue growing the nascent supporters group and he admits that he's now fallen into the deep end of Timbers fandom. The only thing that surprises him is that he had to travel 5,000 miles from home to discover how much he loves this team and this town.
“I don't know what it is, where this passion comes [from] to [start this group], but I think I've wanted something like this for awhile,” he says. “Everything's come into place here in Tokyo of all places.”