DALLAS — Long after the final whistle had sounded, long after Clint Mathis had scored perhaps the most improbable goal of the Major League Soccer season, the hand-painted sign still hung from a railing in the empty Cotton Bowl stands.
"Si, Se Puede."
Mexico's "Yes, We Can" rallying cry during the World Cup had been adopted by Dallas Burn fans, and for 78 minutes Sunday it seemed those fans were correct.
After being hammered, 6-1, by the Galaxy at the Rose Bowl on Thursday, the Burn had fought its way into a 2-0 lead and seemed about to tie the best-of-three playoff series at a game apiece.
Only 10:32 remained in the game when the Galaxy started putting an end to those dreams en route to a remarkable 3-2 victory and a place in the Western Conference finals.
Scoring three goals in an eight-minute span, the Galaxy turned "Si Se Puede" into "Es Imposible" with astonishing ease.
The first goal was created by Mauricio Cienfuegos, whose crossing pass from the left wing was volleyed into the net by Ezra "E.Z." Hendrickson, the lanky midfielder/defender from St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
That was in the 80th minute and made it 2-1.
Five minutes later, it was all even.
Galaxy midfielder Wellington Sanchez was fouled by the Burn's Leonel Alvarez. Cienfuegos floated a free kick into the goal area and Paul Caligiuri leaped above Burn defender Jorge Rodriguez to head the ball in at the near post.
And then came Mathis' bit of magic.
The rookie from Conyers, Ga., picked up a pass from defender Steve Jolley at midfield, looked up and set off on an unlikely jaunt through virtually the entire Dallas team, whose players simply stood and watched.
Mathis ended his weaving run by firing a shot that bent around goalkeeper Mark Dodd and slammed into the back of the Burn net.
"Si, Se Puede."
Two minutes later, the game was over and the 8,130 fans who had kept faith in Dallas until the end had trudged forlornly out of the Cotton Bowl, some, no doubt, to drown their sorrows at the adjacent Texas State Fair.
"It was really a huge team effort down the stretch," said Galaxy captain Robin Fraser. "Everyone dug in, everyone did what they had to do."
But Los Angeles struggled to impose its superiority.
"It's tough to duplicate a performance like Thursday's, it's hard to do the same thing again," Fraser said. "I don't think people weren't trying, it's just that things weren't clicking."
The Burn took the lead in the 44th minute when winger Brian Haynes broke through between Caligiuri and Danny Pena, rounded Galaxy goalkeeper Kevin Hartman and steered the ball into the open net.
An error by Fraser led to the Burn's second goal, three minutes into the second half. He passed the ball back toward Hartman, only to see Mickey Trotman steal it. Trotman cut the ball back to Jason Kreis, whose shot came a split second before Jolley's tackle.
"I haven't stitched up one of our keepers in a while, so it was about time," Fraser joked. "It was completely my fault. It [the back pass] was just a bad decision."
Dallas held its lead until less than 11 minutes remained, and then it all fell apart. The key, according to Burn Coach Dave Dir, was the Galaxy's depth.
"They have a bench and we don't," said Dir, slumped on a chair in the locker room.
"That's the single-most disappointing game I've had in my Dallas career," Kreis said.
"It was like we self-destructed," Dodd said. "We played our hearts out but for whatever reason we didn't have the discipline or the organization or whatever it took to hang onto that lead. There's just no excuse for that."
The atmosphere was a bit more upbeat in the winner's locker room.
"The space just opened up and I was like, 'Thank you very much,' " Mathis said of his solo run and game-winning goal. "I did it when it counted, when we really needed it."
Mathis, Hendrickson and Sanchez all had been sent into the game in the second half by Galaxy Coach Octavio Zambrano.
"That's what I'm supposed to do, to get something going, to be like a catalyst for the team," Hendrickson said. "Fortunately I've been able to do that lately.
"Dallas played a really good game today, I think they just got tired. We're a team that never gives up. Once we got that first goal, we just had the momentum and we just went with it."
There was another sign in the Cotton Bowl Sunday. This one said "You Just Got Burn'd."