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Compliments fly between Columbus Crew SC and New York City FC

“The best striker in the league” and “the best team in the league” square off on Saturday.

MLS: New York City FC at Columbus Crew SC Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

Gregg Berhalter is always complimentary of his opponent. You will never hear the Columbus Crew SC head coach put down an opposition publicly in the buildup to a match.

But this week he’s taken things a step further before meeting up with New York City FC.

It began on Tuesday when Berhalter was asked about the comparisons between the two team’s possession, attacking philosophies.

“I think they’re a better passing team than we are to be honest,” he said. “I think the stats will say that as well. We’re pretty good, I think they’re one notch better than us in that and we’ve got to keep working because that’s a big part of our game and we want to be better than them in that. But right now, they’re ahead.”

In truth, Crew SC have a slightly better MLS passing accuracy (82 percent to 81.7 percent), but it’s nice of Berhalter to give credit to the other side.

Another example was the head coach’s affinity for NYCFC striker David Villa. To be fair, it’s hard not to admire the forward who spent three seasons with FC Barcelona, one of the world’s best club, where he scored 33 goals in 77 appearances.

“I think Villa is the best striker in the league,” Berhalter said early this week. “Just pure quality standpoint, it’s unbelievable what he can do.”

In three seasons in MLS, Villa has 46 goals in 70 appearances for City. A year ago, he finished one goal behind New York Red BullsBradley Wright-Phillips for the Golden Boot and this year he’s tied for third in the league with five finishes in seven games.

“I’ll say it again,” Berhalter doubled down on Thursday, “they have the best striker in the league and I’m comfortable saying that with David Villa. Amazing player and still an unbelievable goal scorer. So you have your hands full with that.”

Berhalter, who remained in New York after his side’s 2-0 loss to the Red Bulls last week to watch NYCFC play in person, could not stop talking about Villa’s goal from a week ago.

“An example would be David Villa’s goal last week is out of absolutely nothing,” Berhalter said when asked about the difficulties of handling City’s attack. “All of a sudden Orlando’s staring 2-1 in the face out of a ball that almost goes out of bounds and he scores it. It’s difficult to deal with quality, but we’ll be prepared.”

The scary thing is, that’s not even Villa’s best goal this season.

While Villa is certainly good, a teammate of his threw compliments back Crew SC’s way. Leading into this weekend’s match, Italian superstar and NYCFC midfielder Andrea Pirlo called the Black & Gold “the best team in the league.”

While Berhalter is great at giving out compliments, he’s evidently not so good at receiving them, or at least when he believes they are unjust.

“I think it’s certainly a compliment,” Berhalter said of Pirlo’s comment. “I’m not sure if it’s true or not, but I think it’s a compliment. I think any time we play New York City, I think they’re good games, they’re attractive games and we hope to have the same again when we play them on Saturday.”

According to the MLS table, Columbus is tied for fourth in the league but a win over NYCFC at home could help boost the team back up to the top of the table.

“We always want to prove (we’re the best) and it’s difficult,” Berhalter said. “But we always want to try and play well, we always want to try to win our home games and we always want to try to play attractive soccer. So if you add those three things in, it becomes complicated.”

The “best striker in the league” and “the best team in the league” will kickoff Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. ET