Depleted Inter Miami faces defending MLS Cup champion Columbus Crew at home Wednesday

Lionel Messi is in Atlanta, preparing for Argentina’s Copa America opening match Thursday against Canada. Luis Suarez is in Miami with his Uruguayan teammates for their first Copa game Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium. And Matias Rojas is in Houston with the Paraguayan national team, awaiting its Copa opener against Colombia.

Meanwhile, their Inter Miami teammates are tasked with facing defending MLS Cup champion Columbus Crew at home on Wednesday night with a depleted roster. Because MLS plays through FIFA international dates, teams such as Inter Miami are at a disadvantage because they have national team players on their rosters.

Inter Miami managed to eke out a 2-1 road win against the Philadelphia Union Saturday night despite the absences of Messi, Suarez and Rojas and a pair of ejections that left Miami with nine men. Miami remains in first place in the Eastern Conference with 38 points and has the league’s best record.

But facing the Crew shorthanded will be mighty challenging. In addition to the three national team players missing, Tomas Aviles and David Ruiz will be unavailable as they serve red card suspensions.

The Crew, which is in sixth place but has played four fewer games than Miami, is not missing key players to Copa America and is coming off four road wins in a row during which the team averaged 2.75 goals per game. Darlington Nagbe, Cucho Hernandez and Diego Rossi are among the players Miami will have to contain.

Asked how excited he and the players were to pull off the win at Philadelphia with a 94th minute goal by substitute Leo Afonso, Miami coach Tata Martino said: “It’s not common to win how we did, so we were happy appreciated that win. But we turn right around to face the defending champion, so we have a lot of work ahead of us.”

Being forced to play with so many important players missing is lamentable, Martino said. Messi and Suarez have combined for 24 goals and 18 assists. More than half of Miami’s goals this season were scored by players who are not available for the game Wednesday (7:30 p.m., Apple TV).

“We had what we had, and now we have even less with the two suspensions,” he said. “And Columbus is probably the best performing team in the league, and they are not affected by national team selections. So, facing Columbus the first question will be how we can move the ball against them, and we will go from there.”

Center back Ian Fray, who has been plagued by three ACL injuries, is expected to make his return on Wednesday. Miami could use more depth in back, especially with Aviles unavailable.

Afonso, the hero of the game against Philadelphia, said the team gained confidence from winning without Messi, Suarez and Rojas. They hope that carries over against the Crew.

“Going there, having the chance to score and win the game with two men down was an unbelievable feeling,” Afonso said. “The whole team, I’ve never seen them like that. It was a statement win. We can tell each other that we’re good enough and show each other that we can do this, it was really important for us.”

The men in pink will have to play potentially six games without their national team players and are aiming to withstand the tough stretch against teams in the playoff race.

After Wednesday’s game, Miami is off for 10 days and then has three consecutive road games, June 29 at Nashville, July 3 at Charlotte and July 6 at Cincinnati, which is in second place in the Eastern Conference. The team returns home July 17 against Toronto.