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MLS teams adjust to a summer of soccer without some of the league's biggest names

Lionel Messi could miss as many as six games with Inter Miami if Argentina wins its way to the Copa America final.

With 12 goals and a league-leading 13 assists, Messi has helped push Miami to the top of Major League Soccer's Eastern Conference. Questions loom about whether Miami can weather his absence during the Copa America, which starts on Thursday.

But it's not just the eight-time Ballon d'Or winner who will be missed.

Inter Miami also will be without Luis Suarez, who has been named to Uruguay's roster for the tournament, as well as Matias Rojas, who will play for Paraguay. And rising star Benjamin Cremaschi is likely to make the U.S. Olympic team.

Suarez and Messi have combined for 24 of Miami's league-leading 44 goals this year.

“The important players are missing, but there is nothing that surprises us. We knew the schedule from the first day of the preseason in January and we tried to prepare ourselves and have a team according to the absences," Miami coach Tata Martino said.

Thirty-nine players from Major League Soccer, and one from MLS NEXT Pro, were called up by their national teams in the run-up to the tournament. The players come from 21 of the league's 29 teams.

“I always say that opens up opportunities for other players that need more opportunities, more time or more minutes," Orlando City coach Oscar Pareja said. "The national teams, you cannot avoid that, players are with their groups. But the ones that stay here, we're just trying to become stronger and just review the things we need to.”

The Houston Dynamo will miss midfielder Coco Carrasquilla, who was named to Panama's roster.

“We're in as good a shape as most teams. Some teams are losing four or five," Dynamo coach Ben Olsen said. “So the more accomplished players you have on your team, the ones that are at international level, that's a great thing most weeks — until you lose them and then you don't have them.”

The league also is losing eight high-profile players to the European Championship. LAFC’s Olivier Giroud and Philadelphia’s Daniel Gazdag are among the players headed to Europe.

It is just the second time that the United States is hosting the Copa America, which will feature 16 teams from South and North America and runs from June 20 to July 14.

"It's a great time for soccer in America,” Olsen said. “I'm looking forward to soaking it all up.”

The participation of MLS players in the Copa America demonstrates the league's ever-growing reach into Latin America. But some national teams, notably Mexico and Brazil, did not call up any MLS players.

The tournament is adding to an already congested schedule for many MLS players. In addition to the Copa America, the European Championship and the Olympics, there's the Leagues Cup, which involves club teams from MLS and Mexico's Liga MX and will take place from July 26 to Aug. 25.

"The schedule is what it is. We have to make the most of it," Philadelphia coach Jim Curtin said.

Gazdag, who is with Hungary for the European Championship, has scored 10 goals for Philadelphia. At the Copa America, Damion Lowe is playing for Jamaica and Jose Martinez is with with Venezuela. Goalkeeper Andre Blake was called up for Jamaica, although he is injured and likely won't play at the start of the tournament.

“When you lose your leading goal scorer this season and a guy who does a lot for us defensively — and I wish him all the luck in the world — but he’s going to be missed, you know? So, everybody has to step up," Curtin said.

It remains to be seen if MLS takes an attendance or viewership hit because of absent players — or simply because there's just so much soccer to consume. Apple TV broadcasts MLS games, while FOX Sports will air many Copa America and European Championship matches across its channels in the United States.

Inter Miami's Julian Gressel told reporters he wants players to “take ownership” of the team in the absence of Messi, Suarez and Rojas.

“This is our time to keep the train rolling; we want to be top of the Supporters Shield standings at the end of the season and every game is a big part of that," Gressel said. ”(I'm) just trying to emphasize that and trying to make it clear to the guys that it's our time and we can do it without those guys as well."

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AP Copa America coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/copa-america