ealmond@mercurynews.com

The chances of making the Major League Soccer playoffs diminish by the week for the Earthquakes one year after winning the Supporters' Shield.

Is it time to try to win the CONCACAF Champions League title, instead?

The Quakes play their second game of the group stage Wednesday night at CD Heredia of Guatemala City after dropping an opener to the Montreal Impact. A victory would go a long way to advancing to the quarterfinals of a tournament some American fans don't follow closely.

San Jose (9-10-7, MLS) remains in eighth place in the nine-team Western Conference after tying FC Dallas last weekend. Although only three points off the fifth and final playoff berth, the Quakes must pass four opponents to win it.

Adding to the difficulty of the challenge, San Jose won't have some starters for its next two MLS games because of suspensions and national team call-ups.

"If I were the coach or management I would put a big priority on Champions League at this point," said Beau Dure, author of "Long-Range Goals, the Success Story of Major League Soccer."

Enrique Sanz, CONCACAF's secretary general, said Tuesday that the Quakes could help their growth by succeeding in an international tournament such as Champions League.

But, he conceded, "Teams have to chose which tournament you give priority."

Even with only eight league games left, the Earthquakes aren't giving up hope quite yet because of the emphasis on the more visible MLS playoffs.

The Champions League tournament features 24 teams from North America, Central America and the Caribbean region. They are playing in eight, first-round groupings with the winners advancing to the championship rounds scheduled for March and April 2014.

"We're definitely trying to get hardware in the CCL," Quakes interim coach Mark Watson said. "But you have to be smart how you manage your club over 34 league games."

The coach rested many of his starters in a 1-0 defeat to Montreal in the first Champions League game. But Watson is expected to field a more veteran lineup against Heredia, which qualified for the tournament by advancing to the final of Guatemala's spring championship.

Centerback Victor Bernardez should play against Heredia because he will miss the next two MLS games. Defender Justin Morrow also should start Wednesday after receiving a red card in the Dallas game that means he is ineligible to play this weekend against the Los Angeles Galaxy. Same goes for midfielder Rafael Baca, who drew an automatic one-game suspension after receiving his sixth yellow card of the season.

Although it seems a Champions League title should be more prestigious than a domestic championship, that's not how it works in the United States because of media coverage.

Winning the MLS Cup will draw much more attention than a Champions League run. American teams don't have a tradition of succeeding in the 52-year old event. The Galaxy won it in 2000 and D.C. United in 1998, but that's it.

"It's all or nothing," Dure said of U.S. teams playing Champions League games. "The next MLS team to win it will be a big deal."

Contact Elliott Almond at 408-920-5865. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/elliottalmond.

Wednesday's game

Earthquakes at CD Heredia, 7 p.m. FOX Soccer Plus