The Crew is entering its most hectic stretch, when national and international honors are on the line in addition to Major League Soccer's usual late-season grind.

The Crew is entering its most hectic stretch, when national and international honors are on the line in addition to Major League Soccer's usual late-season grind.

After wrapping up a three-game road trip Saturday at Real Salt Lake, Columbus returns home Wednesday to launch another edition of the CONCACAF Champions League, a tournament that pits top clubs from North and Central America and the Caribbean.

They'll suit up at least 18 times in the next 11 weeks - 19 if they defeat D.C. United on Sept. 1 to advance to the final of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, a nearly century-old domestic tournament that was rechristened in honor of Crew founder Hunt in 1999.

The Crew will take on this daunting schedule with a depleted roster due to injuries and transaction limbo.

Midfield stalwart Eddie Gaven is still recovering from a severe concussion suffered July 31 against Chivas U.S.A. All-star defender Chad Marshall has been hobbling through games thanks to a knee injury. Usual starters like Gino Padula and Robbie Rogers have seen limited playing time because of nagging injuries.

Furthermore, last week the Crew cut rookie midfielder Othaniel Yanez and traded defender Jed Zayner to D.C. United for a 2011 second-round draft pick. This leaves Columbus with two open roster spots. Presumably one will be filled by Peruvian forward Andres Mendoza, who has been on trial with the Crew in recent weeks. The Crew is being coy about their plans for the other opening.

Whatever squad Robert Warzycha trots out Wednesday will have to deal with Guatemalan champion Municipal, aka "Los Rojos." Municipal is Guatemala's most successful club and the country's only team to win the CONCACAF Champions Cup, the precursor to the Champions League. That was way back in 1974, though.

In terms of more recent success, Municipal Captain Juan Carlos Plata is the all-time leading scorer in Guatemala's top league and should be a handful for the Columbus defense.

Columbus will play home-and-home series with Municipal and the other two Group B clubs, Mexico's Santos and Trinidad's Joe Public. The top two clubs advance to a knockout round next spring.